With over 7.5 million foreign workers (April 2013) working under contract in Saudi Arabia including myself, I would find it very surprising if anyone would reject an employment opportunity in this gulf state. Sure, there are certain laws in the kingdom that are very strict towards foreign workers, but that is definitely no reason why you would pass down an employment opportunity. However, until recently, Pakistanis, including me and several thousand foreign workers from different countries employed in Saudi Arabia have to work under extreme conditions. The harsh, dry climate is something that I can easily endure, but there are other pressing issues that cause worry not only for me, but for others working in the kingdom. Here are some of the difficulties experienced by me while I was working in Saudi Arabia.
There is a saying among foreign workers living in Saudi Arabia, ‘Forget your pants, but never your Iqama’. Iqama is the term used for work permit here in Saudi Arabia. If for any reason, the authorities stop you and request you to hand over your work permit documents for inspection and you forgot them at home, then be sure to find yourself in deep trouble that could involve a jail time. You will be treated like an illegal worker and put behind bars. Since most of the police officers do not speak English, communicating with them will be quite difficult. Also, if you happen to be driving around with a woman, she must be your wife for which you must show proof through documents as well.
Like all foreign workers, I was not a citizen of Saudi Arabia, which means that the rules enforced on me were far strict as compared to their own citizens. Unlike my native home, where I could dress around freely, I had to maintain a certain dress code that the authorities would find acceptable. I have to say that the dry climate and level of clothing I used to put on made things quite uncomfortable and suffocating at times.
Although my salary is not taxed one of the things that I find to be a burden is the cost of maintaining communication with my family. I was always on the lookout for any kind of service that would make my communication easier and cheaper. I managed to find the cheap international calling services that were packed with cheap international calls rates so I could talk to my family on a regular basis. Luckily for me, there were plenty of services that were giving cheap international calls rates, so as a result, I could fulfill my wish. After close comparison of these services’ rates, I found the cheapest of them all was $0.09/minute so without much delay I proceeded. Similarly, my family living back home in Pakistan also stumbled upon the similar cheap international calls rates and that too in just $0.16/minute, so it was a win-win situation for all of us.
Ever since I got employed, my passport was confiscated with my employer. It is made to believe that it is a part of the Saudi Labor Law though it is an unlawful act. Upon my inquiry as to when I shall get it back, I was bluntly told that it will only be returned at the time of my departure. I was lucky to have my Iqama renewed but the only way I was allowed to leave the country was if my employer issued me a re-entry visa. In other words, there is no job security in Saudia. You lose your job; you lose everything with probably your name in their black-list.
Living in Saudi Arabia has served me many advantages, but there certainly some major problems that every single person has to endure. However, I must say, working in a gulf state like Saudi Arabia has given me a lot to learn.
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