Iqama rules for dependents cost expats a fortune

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Fatima Sidiya | Arab News

Published — Sunday 15 February 2009

Last Update 15 February 2009 3:00 am

JEDDAH: Foreign parents working in the Kingdom have been complaining about the Passport Department’s requirements that oblige their children who are studying abroad to come back at least once a year to renew their exit-and-re-entry visas as well as residency permits (iqamas), which they say costs them huge amounts of money. The requirement also causes great difficulties for many students because their travel plans often clash with examination schedules and other important assignments.

Nabil, an Ethiopian student who had been living with his family in Jeddah, had to go to his home country to pursue higher studies. Since then he had to come back to Jeddah once a year and has spent SR12,000 on tickets just to renew his legal status in Saudi Arabia. In most occasions he said he would find difficulty coming because of his exams. He is now considering letting his iqama lapse and starting the process of obtaining a new iqama after his studies.

A father, who did not want his name published, said that after sending his children to study abroad he had to bring them back to renew their iqamas. Failure to follow proper procedures, such as renewing the iqama after expiration, could subject him to a SR10,000 fine.

Another father complained about the lack of suitable higher education institutions where expatriates can enroll their children. Saudi public universities offer free tuition for citizens, but foreign students have to pay hefty fees, which are not affordable by most expatriate families.

Some parents suggest that Saudi missions abroad should be allowed to renew the students’ iqamas. Others said the Passport Department should scrap the requirement of the physical presence of dependents in the country at the time of renewing expatriates’ iqamas. They also called for more flexibility in exit-and-re-entry visa regulations.

The Passport Department currently issues the dependents of foreign workers exit-and-re-entry visas with a maximum one-year validity, provided their iqamas are valid for the duration. However, expatriates must renew their dependents’ iqamas along with their own every two years in order to avoid repeating the entire iqama-application process.

Maj. Muhammad Al-Husain, the spokesman of the Passport Department in Makkah province, said his department has not received any complaints from expatriates in this regard. He said he does not believe many expatriates are facing such problem. “Only 15 percent of expatriate families are affected,” he added.

Al-Husain, however, advised foreign workers facing such problems to submit their complaints to the department so officials could raise the issues before higher authorities, which could result in an eventual easing up of procedures.

The spokesman said he does not expect the authorities to consider the possibility of iqama renewals at the Kingdom’s foreign missions.

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