‘India doesn’t have economic clout to influence Saudi Arabia’

The anxieties of surgery have been overwhelmed now by anxieties of livelihood. Nagaraj Bajal, who has been working in Dammam (Saudi Arabia) as a Sales Officer for the past four years, had come here to India a month ago for a surgery. During this time, labour laws had been changed in Saudi Arabia — the free visa he was on is no more valid: he has to work according to the profession mentioned in the visa (in this case, as a Mason) and he has to pay an annual fee of 3,000 Riyal or around Rs. 40,000 to the government for a labour card.

Scheduled to return to work on April 10, he has indefinitely deferred his flight tickets until the situation there “cools down”.

“None of my friends there are going to work. Shops are closed down, Indian teachers would rather stay in the house. There is a fear that if they go out, the police will intercept them and they’ll get deported,” he said.

Sitting on loans of more than Rs. 1.5 lakh, uncertainty shrouds his wait in the city. “Already, I pay my sponsor 400 Riyals or Rs. 6,000 a month. If you add Rs. 40,000 yearly to the government, I’ll be left with no savings. But, I will not get a high paying job if I return here,” said Mr. Bajal.

Similarly, in Dammam, Parvez Ahmed, from Katipalla on the outskirts of the city, remains confined to his house, fearing a police raid on his shop. He went to the Kingdom four years ago after his visa was sponsored by a citizen there (in cases such as these, the Arab works as an agent, sponsoring visas for Indians, and then letting them work in other companies for a monthly fee). He worked his way up, and eventually saved enough to start a shop a year ago.

“He had invested around Rs. 10 lakh of his earnings for the shop. Now, he still has Rs. 4 lakh to pay back,” said his brother Muneer Katipalla here.

Stories like these are dime a dozen in the coast, and many families here get their sense of financial stability because of remittances coming from kin in Saudi Arabia.

‘A crisis’

Calling the changes in the law a crisis that should not be taken lightly, Anwar Manipady, Chairman, Karnataka State Minorities Commission, said around 5,000 people from Dakshina Kannada and Udupi were working in Saudi Arabia. “Most are uneducated, and working in menial jobs. Their families, who are vulnerable minorities, depend entirely on the savings sent back. The change in laws will severely affect the district,” he said.

He added that the Commission had already written to the Ministry for External Affairs to protect the interests of Indians working in the Kingdom.

Associate Professor at the Political Science Department, Mangalore University, Jayaraj Amin said it was “difficult” for India to influence the government to change the laws if they come into implementation.

“India does not have economic influence. Instead, they can ask the Saudi Arabian government to make certain concession for sectors where Indians work in large numbers – that is, construction, retail and menial jobs which few Saudis do – or ask for the new law to target future employment, instead of those already working there,” he said.

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