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HVK Archives: Beyond qualification : Why Saudia is no longer a Mecca for Indian job-seekers.

Beyond qualification : Why Saudia is no longer a Mecca for Indian job-seekers. - The Indian Express

Shiv Kumar ()
25 December 2096

Title : Beyond qualification: Why Saudia is no longer a Mecca for Indian job-seekers.
Author : Shiv Kumar
Publication : The Indian Express
Date : December 25, 2096

THE fabled pot of gold at the end of the rainbow was
snatched away from him just as R Ramachandran prepared to
dip his fingers in it. The 33-year old civil engineer
from Kerala had just sailed through his medical test and
was set to join a construction company in Saudi Arabia
when his visa was rejected by the country's consulate in
Mumbai.

Sunil Sharma (name changed), a qualified ticketing assis-
tant, was luckier. When he walked into the office of an
'agent', he was bluntly told that his chances of taking
up a job with a Saudi travel agency was slim. Even if
his prospective employer chose to hire him, Sunil's visa
had little chance of getting past the Saudi consulate, he
was informed.

According to manpower consultants in the city, Ramachan-
dran and Sunil are among a large number of professionals
who are victims of Saudi Arabia's undeclared policy of
keeping out non-Muslims from their workforce. "While
visas issued by the Saudi government increasingly insist
on Muslim or Christian candidates, its consulate here
discourages people from other communities taking up the
jobs which are open to them," says an agent who does not
wish to be named.

"The Saudi consulate does not assign any reason for
rejecting a visa application," says Subodh Navalkar,
president of the Indian Personnel Export Promotion Coun-
cil, the apex body of recruiting agents in the country.
According to him, the Islamic kingdom has aggressively
embarked on a 'Saudisation' programme whereby certain
categories of jobs have been reserved for locals. In
addition to country quotas, the Saudi government is also
tightening the screws on non-Muslims taking up jobs like
carpenters, welders, fitters, etc, say manpower agents in
the city. India contributes a large number of personnel
in this category.

According to Navalkar the number of Indians finding jobs
in Saudi Arabia is likely to fall by a whopping 25 per
cent this year. "The damage could have been greater had
the restrictions come into effect early this year," notes
Navalkar.

The restrictions on employing non-Muslims and non-Chris-
tians have been in force from October this year. "Desp-
ite requests, the Saudi authorities are yet to show us
copies of the govermnent order," says Navalkar. He has
now written letters to Saudi Arabia's King Fahd and the
kingdom's Director General of Labour to rescind the
orders on humanitarian grounds.

This is Navalkar's second attempt at lobbying the Saudi
government for changes in conditions of recruitment.
Last year, he got together labour ministry officials from
India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Nepal to bring about a
reduction in visa fees for job applications. Following
the appeals made by these countries, King Fahd ruled that
the visa fees must be paid by the sponsors and not by the

employees hired by them.

The new Saudi restrictions do not even spare workers who
have already put in a stint in the country and whose
contracts have lapsed. For instance, Vijay Sharan
'Mistry', a city-based carpenter who came back home after
a five year stint has no chance of returning. "My employ-
er liked my work but the government will not allow me to
return," he says. He is now trying his luck with estab-
lishments elsewhere in the Gulf.

Till the restrictions came into force more than a year
ago, Indians found employment in the booming construction
sector as workmen. Still others found their way as
salesman and household help. Most aspirants have been
affected. Manpower agents say that from the Non-Muslim
communities, only professionals stand a chance of making
it to Saudi Arabia.

Importance of the Saudi job market to a country like
India with a large force of skilled and unemployed work-
men cannot be undermined. Of the 6 lakh Indians who find
employment in the Gulf every year, nearly half of them go
to Saudi Arabia. Some 2.5 lakh of the Saudi-bound pas-
sengers board their flights from Mumbai. However, most
of them are originally from other parts of the country
who come to the city only to catch their flights.

The other mai contributors to the region's labour pool
are Philippines (3.5 lakh), Pakistan (3 lakh), Bangladesh
(2.5 lakh) and Sri Lanka (1.5 lakh). These countries are
expected to benefit from India's loss in the Saudi labour
market.

Ironically, employers in the Gulf tend to prefer non-
Muslim candidates as they do not have to take time off
for namaz, says Navalkar. He is echoed by Mohammed
Siddique, manager, Arab Enterprise, a suburban manpower
agent. "Employers even specify that we recruit doctors
from South India or craftsmen from certain parts of
Rajasthan," Siddique told Express Newsline.

Manpower agents who specialize in recruiting for Saudi
Arabian companies have been the worst hit by the restric-
tions which came into effect in October. "Business is
bad and all agents are suffering as we cannot always find
qualified Muslim and Christian candidates," says Harjen-
dar Singh, proprietor, Subash Vinay Associates.

Still others hope that things will get better in future.
"The Saudis are probably trying to fill up quotas for
Muslims. Later on they will permit recruitment of other
candidates," says Siddique wistfully.

When contacted for his reaction, the Saudi consul, Mo-
hammed Al-Rashid refused to meet the Express Newsline
saying he was too busy.

However, in response to a question, he sent word through
his secretary that the Saudi consulate in Mumbai does not
refuse workers' visas on grounds of religion. Efforts to
gather further details from the consulate proved futile
as no Saudi official was willing to speak to this newspa-
per.

When a questionnaire was faxed to AI-Rashid's office, his

secretary refused to acknowledge it. "I don't have time
today to check if the fax has come ... the fax room is
too far! Tomorrow is a holiday, call us on Thursday,"
she told this reporter.


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