Tales of departures


FOLLOWING my opinion article last week titled, “Expat fees and tough personal decision”, I’ve received a barrage of emails from readers, mostly thanking me for my understanding but also some stating their plans and hopes, with some even praying that the Kingdom would revisit the issue and revise its dependent tax on a more empirical and slab-wise basis.

In these emails, many readers shared their future plans after the expat fee came into effect early this month. The details of how much expats need to pay was explained in the last opinion article, but this piece is mostly about their responses and actions after the levy of the fees.

The overwhelming majority of readers said that they would pay the tax for the first year only before sending their children back home. Others had planned earlier and acted — some before the tax date and some after the levy. They have sent their wives and children back home risking all social issues that are sure to accompany such a decision.

A reader from Sudan, with five children, said that the expat fees would be a burden on him after the first year. He wrote, “I will send my family back home but will have to remain in Saudi Arabia to work and support my son who is studying in a university abroad. My children have gotten used to life in Saudi Arabia but we have now woken up to a different reality. Since we would have had to return back home for good one day, the sooner it happens is always better. Most likely I will work here for two more years after I send my family back home then I too will return for good.”

An Indian reader wrote cheekily that he had taken anticipatory bail, and is already working on how to rebuild his life. “I knew that the expat fee was a reality, much in advance, and planned for it. My elder son had already been sent to India for his engineering, and my second son passed out of secondary school this year in March. I planned our lives in such a way that after two years we will all be together in India.

“First, after March I sent my second son and my wife back home on final exit and avoided the complication of how much I would have had to pay come July. It worked out well, as my elder son, who was living in hostel, came back home and has now a better environment to live and study. Also, my younger son, who took admission into a prestigious junior college back home and who had lived an insulated life here, has become more independent. He has also become more worldly, being more exposed to life experiences.

“I’ll be going back home more frequently now that they are there and we have already planned how and the frequency. In addition, it will allow me to use the time to look out for opportunities at home and allow for a smooth transition soon, or whenever it happens. I know, not all will be as lucky as I in the way the things worked out. But being prepared and planned was helpful, and I would say to all my expat brethren, to have a plan B in the event of any future eventuality. And I am thankful to Saudi Arabia for providing me the opportunity to earn and learn in my field.”

Many expatriates had expected a last-minute cancelation of the levy of the expat fees from July 1. And in the run-up to the July date, many had expressed that they would take a call after its implementation. Now that the expat fee is a reality, many of these expats are scrambling to come up with an answer. And for many it is to send their families back home and earn a living here, and support them back home. This break up would be necessary, for all expats would not be able to relocate and rework their lives in such a way that lives would not be disrupted.

Another reader from Philippines wrote, “I am so delighted to read your article especially about the expatriates. Honestly, I read your article for the first time. What prompted me to read it was my desire to search facts about the current Saudi system on the expat levy, which obligates expatriates to pay fees of varying degrees annually. We, especially the Filipino expats, are very anxious about this latest ruling although we respect and will always obey the laws of the Kingdom.

“Allow me to express, on behalf of Filipinos and other expats, our gratitude for providing space to air our sentiments and giving your readers balanced views about the current issues. You are not defending us but you put your words and opinion objectively and that alone, actually gives us a clearer and a bird’s eye view of the matter. As for the impending Saudization, though it affects our security of tenure, I'd rather see it as bold act of the Kingdom to secure its economy and provide better lives to its Saudi citizens. There is nothing wrong about that. However, some people (as you stated in your article) have poor impressions of us (expats); have instigated hatred, racism.

“But to make things clear, we don't plunder your wealth, we just work and serve the Kingdom under the auspices of our kind Saudi employers. Upon landing in this foreign land, it is already incumbent upon us that our loyalty and dedication to work belong solely to our employers; it is also incumbent upon us to give full respect and gratitude to your people as the only rightful heirs of the fruit of this land. In closing, I am terribly worried about the situation, but I deeply understand the Saudi government's move. What will happen to me? To the expats? We never know we'll just cross the bridge when we get there. May Allah guide us in our next journey!”

There were other mails, seeking authorities to review this fee, some claiming that their long stay had made them a foreigner in their own lands and some viewing their future as dim and grim. But amid all their writings there was one refrain that was their heartfelt thanks to this Kingdom, which welcomed and embraced expats and gave them a home to build their future. The litany of hope too continued, but it was tinged with pragmatism in the tales of departures.