Would you like to know how most expats living in Saudi Arabia feel?
Ask a Saudi woman.
An expat cannot reside, survive or thrive independently in the kingdom and is at the mercy of a sponsor, almost like a dependent. A Saudi woman cannot legally and independently live without a male guardian, or a “mahram” (a close male blood relative whom a woman is forbidden by Islamic law to marry). She too, for life, is a dependent bound to, and at the mercy of, a man.
While an expat cannot leave the country without the sponsor’s approval (via exit and re-entry visas), a Saudi woman cannot travel without her male guardian’s approval, now upgraded from a piece of paper to a computerized electronic version putting the power of approval or denial of a woman’s travel literally at his very fingertips.
After landing at an international airport in the kingdom and while lining up at the passport counter, an expat’s heart may skip a beat or two in trepidation until he or she has passed safely through immigration and is officially in the country. Likewise, a Saudi woman when departing to an international destination may hold her breath until her travel permit is confirmed, her passport stamped and she has smoothly passed through and is officially out of the country.
What of an expat’s residence permit, i.e., an Iqama? During the recent amnesty period, it was noted that many sponsors had not acquired Iqamas, residence permits, for the expats they were sponsoring, although overlooking such a measure is illegal. Well did you know that there are many cases where Saudi women are without passports or national IDs because their male guardians have not done what was required to have these documents issued even though, this too, is illegal?
How about renting a house or an apartment? A landlord will ask the expat for a letter from the sponsor, i.e., the employer. And for a Saudi woman, the landlord will ask that a mahram or male guardian “vouch” for her even though no law requires this of her.
To date a sponsor can falsely report a sponsored expat as “huroob” (a runaway) or demand his or her deportation without the latter’s knowledgeSomayya Jabarti