SaudiArabia:The dilemma of expatriates

Mareeg.com-Shamsul Huda an expatriate guest worker who has been living in the Kingdom for a number of years is alarmed at what he sees as a trend of “anti-expatism”, if you will. He tells me that most expatriates are uncertain about their future because after spending a number of years here, they are often unwelcome in their own countries as most family ties have moved on. He claims that uncertainty reigns in their lives as they are not able to settle down properly and peacefully either in their own countries or in the place where they are now

His words are formed by the burdens that I as a Saudi would perhaps never understand. It is why I chose to include his words in this piece. He says: “Expats generally migrate to other countries in pursuit of better opportunities with the hope that after a few years they will be back where they were with some savings which, they believe, will be enough to make their ends meet for the rest of their lives. But it does not happen the way they think. Their stay, in many cases, continues for nearly half their lives. It is because during the first few years they can’t save as much money as they planned so they decide to stay longer. In Saudi Arabia, there are many expats from Arab and Asian countries, who have been living here for more than 20 years.

“With their feet planted in two countries, expats are said to have no fixed abode. In addition, they have to endure some chilling anxieties as locals have a prejudice against them and the sense of expat-bashing is growing gradually nowadays after the recent enforcement of Nitaqat (a system to replace expats with Saudis) which aims to wean private enterprises off foreign workers. There are also conspicuous disparities in pay and responsibilities in workplaces between expats and locals. Expats are unsatisfied with this treatment, although it is natural in many rich countries.

“The family life of expatriates here is unique. Most of them come first as bachelors. On their first or second vacation, they get married and bring their wives, and their children are born and brought up here living a happy life. But their happiness does not last long. Their real problem starts when their children have grown up and completed their secondary level education from their respective countries’ international schools. By this time, many of these children are more than 18 years old and the Kingdom’s laws do not let them stay any longer and their resident permits become null and void.

“Consequently, parents are bound to send their children either to their own countries or any other country for higher education. And their families are broken and their children studying abroad cannot even come to the Kingdom to see their siblings and parents. For a reunion of these families, these children and their parents have to go to their own countries.

“Expatriate children who are brought up here find it difficult to adjust to the new environment once they return to their country of origin. They are unfortunate as they have been born and reared in a country that does not belong to them and one day they discover themselves in a strange society of their own. It takes some years for them to adapt to the tradition and culture of their countries.

“The problem is more acute for those expats who are married but not able to bring their wives. These foreigners represent conservatively between 80 and 90 percent of the total expat population here. According to sources from some embassies in Riyadh, nearly 90 percent of foreign citizens working here fall into this category.

“Expats who live here as singles suffer the most. Their untold woes know no bounds. While explaining his grievances, an aggrieved expat literally breaks down in tears noting that his wife in his country has deserted him due to his prolonged absence. ‘I cannot fault my spouse. It is I who am to blame for this predicament,’ he says. Expatriates generally go on vacation once in two years.

“This is only one instance in a thousand such cases. On January 27, Bangladesh’s vernacular daily, Amardesh, carried a grisly and salacious story about an expatriate’s wife who was caught by villagers with another man. The villagers meted out humiliating punishment to her for her infidelity with chains of shoes tied round her neck forcing her to walk in the street before thousands of onlookers. Her life has become a nightmare.

“Another discontented expat bares his heart saying: ‘How can I make my sponsor and pay master understand if he is not and will never be in my place. Had he been left alone by his family, he would have realized our feelings.’ The longer expats stay here as singles, the more likely they find themselves involved in immoral acts. This problem has been prevalent since the Saudi oil boom during 1970s when foreigners started to come to the Kingdom in droves. It now deserves addressing without further delay. Shamsul Huda”

While his pleas are certainly not unique among expatriates, Mr. Huda’s calls definitely deserve attention from the appropriate authorities.

— The author can be reached at talmaeena@aol.com. Follow him on Twitter @talmaeena

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