House helps on 'wanted' list left in a quandary


Saudi Gazette

JEDDAH — Scores of expatriate workers who are largely employed as domestic servants are unable to avail of the extended amnesty as part of the Interior Ministry's Nation Without Illegal Expats campaign because of pending investigations against them.

These workers, mainly from South Asian countries, are listed as "matloub", or wanted, by the passport authorities.

Most of these workers were employed in Saudi households as drivers or maids and others as shepherds.

There has been a spurt in issuance of visas for domestic helps in the past couple of years. Last year, the Ministry of Labor approved 1.17 million visas for domestic servants, which is an increase of 18 percent compared to 2015.

Unlike the private sector employees, domestic workers fall under "private category", where the law of private rights applies, making their cases complex and sensitive in nature.

As the extended amnesty period is to end in about two weeks, there is no hope for these workers to leave the country voluntarily. Despite the sensitive nature of their cases, the diplomatic missions have no mechanism to address their problem.

"We have been receiving a number of such cases and are trying to negotiate with the sponsors to settle the matter amicably, so that the workers can leave the Kingdom," said a diplomat who did not want to be identified.

He added that they dealt with such cases on individual merit, rather than any common basis.

Expatriate employees who are classified as matloub do not get legal support to seek remedial measures and address their grievances against such classification. Their diplomatic missions are left helpless in the matter due to the private rights issue.

Many of these workers, after obtaining travel documents from diplomatic missions in Riyadh and Jeddah, had approached the Saudi passport authorities for processing exit papers to leave the country, but were turned back. They were told to approach their sponsors instead.

However, the workers are reluctant to approach the sponsors, who are based in different parts of the Kingdom, for fear of being arrested.

Some of these workers had found themselves on the wanted list for damaging cars or causing death of cattle due to negligence.

A few of them have criminal charges against them for theft or liquor consumption and storage.

According to sources, many of these workers had caused losses to their Saudi employers by making road accidents and subsequently damaging cars.

Also there were several instances of drivers who have huge amounts of penalties to settle for violating traffic rules. The penalties are listed against the Saudi employers, but they want the drivers to settle the amounts themselves.

Some of the workers had run away from their sponsors in an attempt to find jobs with higher salaries.

The family drivers are vital for Saudi households but many of them run away in the middle of work, negatively impacting the movement of family members, according Saudi sources.

The expat drivers deny the charge and say they were forced to work all day and night without any rest. They allege that their employers treat them inhumanely.