On Sunday when the Nitaqat (classification) deadline ended, Ashiq Rahman Musaliyarakath sat among the crowd on the Kozhikode beach, far away from Madina where he did six jobs and yet left penniless.
As the sun set and darkness gripped the city, Mr. Rahman had no clue of the future. His three children are in school. The family lives in a rented house in the city.
His share of the ancestral property was sold to cough up the Rs.1.5 lakh for the work visa to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
In March this year, his employer told him to take a six-month vacation. Time to implement the Nitaqat law was near and Mr. Rahman had stopped working for his sponsor or kafeel a long time ago. He was plain illegal.
The owner of the readymade garment shop he worked in would have to bear the brunt of the Saudi law enforcement if Mr. Rahman was found. When he reached India, he was told not to return.
“In September, I got a call from my employer, saying I cannot come back. He said Nitaqat will come and he did not want to suffer for employing me. I have no savings now,” he said.
“This is a situation in which employees are sent back without benefits in the guise of a vacation. When the Nitaqat policy came into existence, they were simply asked not to return,” Attakoya Pallikandy, chairman, Indo-Arab Federation Council.
Mr. Rahman had worked six jobs in Madina, starting with his sponsor’s computer shop, then a hotel waiter, a medical shop salesman, at a broast joint, a door-to-door supplier of Toyota spare parts and lastly a salesman at a readymade garment shop.
“The profession on my visa was accountant. I was a labourer,” Mr. Rahman said.
“When I reached Madina on July 7, 2011, I worked for two months with my sponsor. He refused to pay me and told me to find another job. The moment I left his employment, I became illegal. The following months were hide-and-seek with the police,” he said.
Still, he managed to earn a monthly income of 1,500 riyals (Rs. 23,000).
“Of this, 1,000 riyals I would send home without fail. I had to pay 400 riyals for my food and room. This left me with 100 riyals for the whole month,” he said.
Mr. Rahman also had to shell out 2,250 riyals (Rs. 33,750) for his iqama (residence permit) and another 850 riyals for medical insurance.
Though the Nitaqat labour policy is a part of the country’s efforts to expand job opportunities for its nationals, returnees such as Mr. Rahman said the Saudi nationals who acted as sponsors would feel the pinch most.
“If you are going on free visa, the kafeel who sponsors you demands a share of your monthly pay. A kafeel may have sponsored several migrant workers. From each of us, he will take his share. With us leaving, he loses this easy money,” Abdul Latheef, another returnee, said.
Way of business
Mr. Latheef, who ran a small business in Saudi Arabia, explained the mechanism of starting one. “If I want to start a business there, I will enter into an oral agreement with the sponsor. The business will start in his name. I will meet all the expenses, plus pay him a monthly amount of some 200 riyals,” he said.
Mr. Rahman has bitter-sweet memories of the Saudi nationals his employer was “forced” to hire lately.
“The shop would open at 9 a.m. But they would come at 4 p.m. and leave at 10 p.m. They would get three times more than what we would. But if you had a problem with the authorities, it is they who would first come to your rescue and not your compatriots.”