Publication Date: 
Thu, 2011-07-21 02:25

The fire disrupted the
holiday plans of many employees who were due to travel this month and facing
the headache of obtaining new passports from their embassies and consulates. It
is understood that there were some workers whose passports were already stamped
with exit/re-entry visas.
International law gives
passport holders the right to keep their own passports with them.
There is no law that forces
employees to surrender their passports to a person or workplace. In Saudi
Arabia, expatriates are forced to hand them in to their employers.
Some non-Saudi employees
don't realize the potential problems of keeping their passports with their
company, especially if it gets stolen, lost or damaged. Some countries have
very tough rules when issuing new passports. Some employees may not get their
new passports for years if an investigation has to be conducted.
“Saudi laws allow a non-Saudi
employee to keep his or her passport and iqama (work permit). In fact, the
passport belongs only to its holder,” said Matouq Al-Sharif, a member of the
National Society for Human Rights.
“Although the Council of
Ministers has allowed expatriates to keep their passports, many companies and
Saudi employers still refuse to implement this rule. There is no department
that supervises the implementation of this rule and protects the workers’
According to Al-Sharif, most
workers are unaware of their rights and they think handing their passports over
to the company is legal.
He said all workers should
have the right to freely change jobs between companies and transfer their
sponsorship. “During my last meeting with Labor Minister Adel Fakeih, he said
that expatriate rights must be ensured and the Nitaqat program will respect the
expatriate workers’ rights,’ said Al-Sharif.
Fakeih confirmed that part of
Nitaqat procedures is to recruit monitors in each company who will ensure the
rights of expatriate workers and make sure their passports are kept with the
Al-Sharif confirmed that
using passports as a weapon to blackmail and pressure employees is against
Saudi law.
“As soon as the Nitaqat
program begins its implementation, the companies will face five possible levels
of punishment if they violate expatriate employees’ rights” said Al-Sharif.
A human resources manager at
a private company in Jeddah who spoke on condition of anonymity confirmed that
his department keeps hold of the employees’ passports.
“Keeping the expatriate
workers’ passports protects the company’s investment. It guarantees that the
worker will not leave the country suddenly,” he said.
“It also allows the company
to update its employees’ data with the labor office. How can we update the
information without having the passport in our possession? However, the company
invests a huge amount of money to recruit employees. If they have their
passports with them they might leave suddenly, causing huge losses.”
He added that passports
should be kept in a special place away from danger. There are special iron
safes that protect the passports from fire and theft.
Yasser Khalil, an Egyptian
engineer working for a private company, said that his Saudi employer
blackmailed him using his passport.
“He refused to pay my salary
for three months. When I demanded my salary and passport so I could move
elsewhere, he refused and said that he would only return my passport if I
signed a paper waiving any legal right against his company.”
Khalil complained to the
local Labor Office, which was told by the employer that the passport had been
An investigation revealed
that the boss had kept the passport in his possession all this time and was
using it to get out of paying the outstanding three months’ wages.
A human resources manager at
a private company in Jeddah who also did not want to mention his name said that
he does not see any logic in keeping passports. He said employees in general
cannot travel outside the Kingdom without an exit/re-entry visa and said it was
not a threat to the company if workers kept their passports.
“In case of death or a sick
relative in the employee’s home country, the worker has great difficulty in
obtaining his or her passport, especially during the weekend. The companies’
human resources departments are shut over the weekend, in the evening and the
Eid and national holidays. Some HR officers open the department on the weekend
or vacation to respond to quick cases, but most of them refuse to do so,” he

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