Rumours add to worries of Saudi-bound Kerala drivers

Though there are eight months to go for the Saudi Arabian authorities to start issuing driving licence to women, the reform has rattled Saudi job aspirants. The move is expected to cut job prospects of expatriate chauffeurs and taxi drivers.

Many newspaper offices in north Kerala, including The Hindu , received anguished calls from young men planning to go to Saudi Arabia on ‘house driver visas’ to do a reality check. House drivers who are home on annual leave are also worried about their jobs. A WhatsApp message, apparently false, claims that 19 categories of employees in Saudi Arabia, including drivers, cannot renew their ‘iqama’ (residency permit). This has added to the worries of drivers already employed in the kingdom.

Last week, King Salman decreed that women could drive in Saudi. Until then, the desert kingdom was the only country in the world not to allow women to drive.

However, because of the reform a substantial number of expatriate drivers (estimated between five lakh and 14 lakh) are likely to lose their jobs. Once women get behind the wheel, they will replace ‘house drivers,’ chauffeurs, and taxi drivers.

Huge setback

Now women need to be chauffeured around by house drivers, or have to hire taxis. A sizeable number of these drivers are from north Kerala.

Against the backdrop of the Saudi authorities nationalising the labour force and shrinking the job chances for expatriates, the much-applauded reform is a huge setback for Kerala migrant workers in Saudi Arabia. The move will speed up the return migration to Kerala.

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