Rob L. Wagner روب لستر واقنر

November 5, 2013

Life hit hard by labor raids

Filed under: Uncategorized — Rob L. Wagner @ 10:45

By Rob L. Wagner and Abdullah Al-Bargi

Arab News

5 November 2013

Labor inspectors on Monday swept up thousands of illegal workers in a series of raids across the Kingdom as the amnesty period for expatriates to legalize work status expired on Sunday.

According to Jeddah police spokesman, Nawaf Al-Bouq, 3,918 undocumented expats were arrested in and around Jeddah on Monday.

In Madinah, police raids netted 300 illegals.

Anticipating the sweeps, hundreds of business owners shuttered their shops. In addition, commercial activity at the Jeddah Islamic Port dropped and food prices spiked.

The rush-hour commutes in Jeddah and Riyadh were less congested, as undocumented expats stayed home. Some school administrators closed their campuses because their teachers’ legal status remains unresolved. 

On Palestine Street at Prince Majed Road in Jeddah, at least 3,000 Indonesians gathered to protest their inability to obtain legal status.

“We had tried for weeks to regularize our status, but officials are insisting we bring our original passports and other documents which we are unable to do,” one illegal worker told Arab News.

Abdulmeneem Al-Shehri, head of the Jeddah Labor Office, told Arab News Monday that labor inspectors began targeting commercial business. 

“The Ministry of Labor has a strategic plan for its inspection mission,” Al-Shehri said. “The mission has started and will continue to be conducted by highly qualified staff displaying their official badges.”

He said he expects business owners to cooperate and “uphold the new law” for the public interest and growth of the local economy. 

“Business owners and workers who are found to be in violation will be immediately referred to the Ministry of Interior,” he said.

The Labor Ministry’s campaign to rid the country of illegal workers followed a seven-month grace period, which allowed foreigners working illegally in Saudi Arabia to obtain the proper iqamas. The Saudi government gave workers a three-month amnesty period that was scheduled to end July 3, but extended it to Nov. 3. The government did not provide a third grace period.

Workers in unskilled positions, part-time office workers under the sponsorship of their parents and international schoolteachers have been particularly hard hit. However, undocumented teachers have been given reprieve by the Ministry of Education, which issued a statement that no raids would be conducted during the first semester of school.
Many small shops and restaurants, which commonly hired undocumented workers, were closed throughout Jeddah. 

In Riyadh, the usually bustling Al-Batha shopping complex in the city center appeared deserted, with many shops either empty or closed altogether. 

The Ministry of Labor offices will continue to help workers who had already applied for sponsorship transfer to complete the process this week, according to Al-Shehri. Legalizing workers’ residency status shall also continue. 

In addition, the ministry has launched an employment service to allow legal expats to hold part-time positions while employed in full-time jobs. 

Workers must hold valid iqamas and have permission from the original sponsors to work. In addition, they must register their labor information at www.ajeer-sa.com and have a sound attendance record.

‘Girls of Riyadh’ author honored in US for stem cell research

Filed under: Uncategorized — Rob L. Wagner @ 10:42

By Rob L. Wagner

Arab News

5 November 2013

Rajaa Al-Sanea, the Saudi author of “Girls of Riyadh,” or “Banat Al-Riyadh,” which sparked controversy in 2005 for its frank depiction of Saudi women’s lives, has been honored for her research in stem cell science in the US. 

Al-Sanea, 31, is an assistant professor at the University of Illinois in Chicago. The university honored her last week for significant achievements. She received the award for distinctive research in stem cells and her work in neurology. The university also recognized her literary efforts, singling out “Girls of Riyadh,” which had sold 3 million copies and was translated into 40 languages.

Al-Sanea could not be reached for comment late Monday.

The honor follows Al-Sanea’s rocky start as a novelist. In 2005, two men named the Ministry of Information and Al-Sanea in a lawsuit alleging that the ministry gave permission to Al-Sanea to publish a book that “tarnished” the image of Saudi women. Literary critics, however, considered the novel as the Saudi version of the American television show “Sex in the City.”
The Saudi Court of Grievances rejected the lawsuit in October 2006.

The novel was published in Lebanon in 2005. The US-based Penguin Group published an English version in 2007. It is sold in Saudi Arabia and has also earned positive reviews in the United States.

Al-Sanea earned her bachelor’s degree in dentistry in 2005 at King Saud University. She performed her residency at the National Guard, King Khalid University and King Faisal Specialist hospitals.

August 27, 2013

KSA implements sweeping domestic violence law

By Rima Al-Mukhtar & Rob L. Wagner

Arab News

27 August 2013

In a landmark decision, the Cabinet on Monday passed a law making it a crime to commit domestic abuse. The law also provides treatment and shelter to victims of violence.
For the first time, public and private sector workers have been encouraged to report abuse cases to law enforcement authorities or the Ministry of Social Affairs.
The legislation now holds law enforcement agencies accountable for investigating and prosecuting domestic cases. Previously, police treated violence against women and children as a private domestic matter with few legal consequences.
Abuse victims also will have access to psychological treatment, health care and shelter. “All civilian or military employees and all workers in the private sector who learn of a case of abuse — by virtue of their work — shall report the case to their employers when they know it,” the Cabinet said in a statement. “The employers shall report the case to the Ministry of Social Affairs or police when they know it.”
The Cabinet did not provide specifics of penalties for convictions of domestic violence.
Suhaila Zain Al-Abideen Al-Hammad, a social activist and member of the National Society for Human Rights, said she has reservations about the new law because it doesn’t resolve the male guardianship issue. Many abusers are the guardians of the victims, she said.
“I wish this will change how the Ministry of Social Affairs treats women when it asks them to bring their male guardians when filing domestic abuse complaints,” Al-Hammad said. “They also ask their male guardians to pick them up after the report is done and ask the abusers to sign pledges to never do it again.”
Walaa Mohammed is a 55-year-old stay-at-home mother who divorced her abusive husband. She said the police were powerless to help her.
“My husband used to drink late at night and attack me,” she said. “One day, he locked me in the house and left to meet with his friends and I couldn’t leave the house for days. I called the police who informed me that they cannot come inside if my male guardian was not here.”
Mohammed Al-Harbi, general manager of Social Protection at the Ministry of Social Affairs, said urgent domestic violence cases now can be handled quickly.
“Urgent investigations will be launched and action will be taken in the cases where the abusers are under the influence of drugs or alcohol and those who suffer from psychological conditions,” Al-Harbi said.
Domestic violence awareness is a relatively new concept in Saudi Arabia. Only recently have studies been carried out to examine the issue.
In a 2009 study of women seeking services as primary health centers in Madinah, 25.7 percent of the 689 women surveyed said they were victims of physical abuse. Only 36.7 percent of the abused women in the study notified their doctors.

US to access Americans’ GCC finances

Filed under: Uncategorized — Rob L. Wagner @ 13:50
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By Rob L. Wagner

Arab News

13 August 2013

The United States Internal Revenue Service is inching toward implementing a tax law targeting US taxpayers holding unreported foreign financial assets. The law will have a far-reaching impact on American expatriates who have accounts with financial institutions in the GCC. 
The Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA), signed into law by President Barack Obama in 2010 and which becomes effective on July 1, 2014, is intended to find US citizens avoiding their tax obligations by requiring foreign financial institutions to report their bank details.
Saudi Arabia has already signed agreements with accounting firms Ernst & Young, Pricewater-houseCoopers and KBMG to participate in the implementation.
The law requires that foreign financial institutions report the name, address, account number and financial activity of US taxpayers who have assets exceeding $50,000 to the IRS. Foreign banks and other financial institutions that do not sign the agreement will have a 30 percent tax withheld on US-source income deposited in their accounts.
US expats earning income from foreign employers and living at least 330 days out of the year in a foreign country already pay income taxes, although some exemptions apply. However, FATCA requires all foreign financial institutions to provide full financial details of any foreign-employed American living abroad to the IRS.
There have been unintended consequences for some expats.
Adnan Yousef, a member of the Union of Arab Banks, told the Arabic-language daily newspaper Al-Eqtisadiah that at least one Gulf bank terminated the accounts of two Americans. The details of the account closures were not provided. However, some foreign financial institutions — identified as banks, insurance companies, brokerage firms, trust companies, mutual fund companies and retirement plan administrators under the new law — rather close Americans’ accounts than provide customer data because of the costs incurred to comply with the regulations.
One American expatriate civil engineer living in Jeddah said he was denied an account at Saudi financial institution. “They said it was too much trouble to open an account because my government had too many regulations and demands,” said the engineer who asked not to be identified.
Yet most GCC banks are ready to comply with the IRS regulations.
Yousef said he expects the UAE will be the chief source of tax collections due to the large number of Americans earning high wages. Saudi Arabia has the second highest number of earners followed by Bahrain and Kuwait, he said.
In all, an estimated SR1 billion could be collected as taxes from American expats, he said.
“Gulf banks will apply the new law to subject the accounts of US citizens to gradual tax detection to make sure US citizens do not evade any taxes on his income in any state,” Yousef told Al-Eqtisadiah. 
A US expat in the aviation industry said he is not worried about the new law. “I already report my income and I have nothing to worry about,” he said on the condition of anonymity. “The ones who should worry are the guys who are investing a lot of money in Saudi Arabia, using offshore accounts to keep their money, and not reporting it as income.”
Meanwhile, the Saudi Arabian Monetary Agency advised the Kingdom’s financial institutions to prepare to implement the new regulations.

Saudi students encouraged over US ‘green card’ plan

By RIMA AL-MUKHTAR & ROB L. WAGNER

Arab News

13 August 2013

Saudi university students studying in the United States say an offer of a residency permit from the Obama administration would increase employment opportunities for young Saudis and even provide leverage as a means to find work in the US.

As Washington legislators debate immigration reform, a persistent position among Democrats, President Obama and Vice-President Joe Biden are encouraging foreign students to remain in the United States after earning their post-graduate degree by offering a legal residence permit, called a green card. A green card serves as a pathway to US citizenship.
The US government is particularly interested in students with a master’s degree or Ph.D in science, technology, engineering and mathematics — called STEM degree programs — because of their potential to contribute to the American economy.
Israa Saleh, a Saudi MBA student in Boston said the idea of working in the United States is appealing because of the lack of jobs in Saudi Arabia.
“This would be a great opportunity for Saudis who do not find good job opportunities in the Kingdom because many graduates cannot find a job offer and the ones who do are underpaid,” Saleh told Arab News. “If we stay here and work here I believe it will give us a great working experience and develop our knowledge.”
Khalid Jan, a Saudi banking and finance student in Tampa, Florida, told Arab News that obtaining a green card can help eliminate the stereotyping of Saudis by Americans.
“We have been called many names but no one actually made an effort to know us better outside the school campus,” Jan said. “This will also show that Saudis can be good at what they do especially in jobs related to the economy.”
The US Department of Homeland Security, long the source of irritation for Saudis traveling to the United States because the department is often perceived as unnecessarily intrusive, has expanded its list of degree programs. The list broadens the pool of eligible graduating foreign university students for the US government’s Optional Practical Training program in science and technology fields.
Among the perks of the program is allowing qualified student visa holders an extra 17 months to remain in the United States.
Talal Mujeeb, an engineering student in Phoenix, Arizona, said the program should send a signal Saudi businessmen who refuse to hire Saudis.
“We are glad this came now because this can help us as students from having to apply for a visa and not be afraid to leave the US fearing a rejection,” Mujeeb said. “This is also a way to teach greedy businessmen who refuse to see us as a great investment and would rather invest in foreigners.”
However, some Saudi students are not ready to accept the US government’s offer.
Lama Al-Amri, a psychology major in Miami, said Saudis remaining in the United States defeats the purpose of the university scholarship program. “Why would someone even consider living in the US when we are all here for a mission and will be leaving?” she said.
She said the Ministry of Higher Education sent Saudis abroad to improve the job and social skills of the next generation of young people
“We are supposed to bring our knowledge back home and work on improving the economy and work on developing the life there.”

August 9, 2013

KSA thwarts suicide bombing plot; 2 suspects in custody

Filed under: Uncategorized — Rob L. Wagner @ 11:36
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By Sabria S. Jawhar, Rob L. Wagner and P.K. Abdul Ghafour

Arab News

9 August 2013

JEDDAH: Two terror suspects — a Yemeni and a Chadian — were in custody late Thursday on suspicion of planning to launch a suicide attack in the region, according to Interior Ministry spokesman Gen. Mansour Al-Turki.

The arrests took place during the last 10 days of Ramadan. The plot was foiled as the United States closed its embassies and consulates in the Middle East, South Asia and Africa, citing security threats. The embassy and the consulate in Saudi Arabia were expected to remain closed for at least one week.
Al-Turki told Arab News Thursday night that the Chadian had been deported from Saudi Arabia, but returned with a passport under a different nationality.
“They were in contact with deviant groups outside Saudi Arabia and exchanging information regarding operations in the region,” Al-Turki said.
Al-Turki said the arrests stemmed from a “local” operation, but he noted that intelligence was passed on to other countries.
The arrests occurred after Saudi security personnel monitored messages described as inciting hatred through social media. The two men were in contact with Al-Qaeda suspects abroad through social media sites such as Abu Al-Fida, Hasbawi, Muawiya Al-Madani, Rasasa Fi Qesasihi and Abul Fida Al-Doqali, according to one security official who requested anonymity.
Investigators also seized militant-related materials, including data on computers, communication devices and mobile telephones. 
“They used these sites to exchange information to carry out imminent suicide attacks in the region,” the security official said. “This has been confirmed from their preliminary confessions.” 
Intelligence officials and US military are closely scrutinizing the Yemen-based Al-Qaeda after monitoring chatter that included a message from the terrorist organization’s chief, Ayman Al-Zawahri, to attack Yemen targets. Earlier this week, Yemen reported it foiled a plot to capture gas and oil facilities and seize two southern ports.
Al-Turki pointed to King Abdullah’s contribution of $100 million to jump-start an international counterterrorism center to demonstrate Saudi Arabia’s commitment to rooting out militants.
“This happened as part of Saudi Arabia’s keenness in obtaining information regarding terrorists and extending cooperation to the international community,” Al-Turki said.

May 28, 2013

‘American Bedu’ blogger Al-Ajroush dies at 53

Filed under: Uncategorized — Rob L. Wagner @ 12:01
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By Rob L. Wagner

Arab News

28 May 2013

Carol Fleming Al-Ajroush, the popular American blogger who chronicled Saudi society and covered expatriate issues as American Bedu, died yesterday following a battle with breast cancer. She was 53.

American Bedu was widely read in Saudi Arabia and the United States for its insight of the Kingdom through the eyes of Al-Ajroush, an American expat married to a Saudi. Her stories and observations about the lives of expats in a closed and conservative country won legions of followers who respected her frank, but fair commentary on Saudi issues. Al-Ajroush was particularly eloquent in writing about Saudi women’s issues, including the right to seek employment, to drive an automobile and to live full lives.
In addition to her coverage of Saudi issues, she also blogged about breast cancer awareness after she returned to the United States for treatment. She participated in public service campaigns and served as a speaker at cancer awareness events. She was a member of the Lake Norman Breast Cancer Support Group.
Many of her stories of her Saudi experiences were published in “Bridges: An Anthology.” Her work was also published in Oasis Magazine.
Carol A-Ajroush had been a resident of Charlotte, North Carolina, at the time of her death.
Al-Ajroush was diagnosed with cancer in 2008. Her family had a long history of cancer. In an interview with reporter Amber Shahid for Arab News, she openly discussed her illness.
“My grandmother, aunts and cousin died of breast cancer,” she said. “My cousin was only 31 years old and she had two young children. These thoughts ran through my mind when I learned of my diagnosis. By the time I reached my 40s, however, I guess I naively considered myself safe.”
A native of Espyville, Pennsylvania, Al-Ajroush was born on Oct. 9, 1959. She graduated from George Washington University in Washington, D.C.
Following graduation, she served as an American diplomat for 20 years, including an assignment in Pakistan where she met her husband, Saudi diplomat Abdullah Othman Al-Ajroush. They moved to Saudi Arabia in 2006 after a long courtship in several countries. She resigned her post to get married.
Abdullah Al-Ajroush died in 2010. She is survived by a son, Jon Carmichael; a brother, Michael C. Lebhaft; and a nephew, Matthew Joseph Wells.

April 20, 2013

Saudi Student Recounts ‘Overwhelming’ Impact of Boston Bombing

Filed under: Uncategorized — Rob L. Wagner @ 09:47
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By Rob L. Wagner

Arab News

17 April 2013

When the twin explosions struck near the finish line of the Boston Marathon Monday afternoon, Saudi pharmacy student Shatha Jameel Mufti did what everyone else did. She ran.
She didn’t flee immediately because her first reaction was that a bomb didn’t go off.
“I didn’t see it, but it was something like a big pipe had fallen,” she told Arab News in a telephone interview. “But then I felt the impact and we all just started running.”
The explosions left three people dead and more than 170 injured. Other eye witnesses described the blasts as a “sudden shock.” Medical personnel said injuries included serious limb and head injuries and ruptured eardrums.
The 22 year-old, a fourth-year student at Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences, watched the marathon on Boylston Street with about a dozen of her friends and fellow students. The day started perfect. Temperatures hovered around 18 C, pleasantly warm and dry after a brutally cold winter.
But as she watched the runners cross the finish line, the impact of the explosion jolted her. “It was to my right and about a mile away,” she said. “My first instinct was that it was an accident.”
She then saw runners falling and police pushing people away. She began running from the explosion. She saw many people injured and blood covering the street.
“There was a lot of young children crying and screaming,” she said. “I tried to calm some children down until a mother came and found her child.”
Emergency personnel were immediately at the scene and aiding the injured. Fully staffed medical tents serving marathon participants had been converted into instant triage areas, so her medical training was not necessary.
Many of the people running with her began to fill nearby shops and restaurants in a bid to find safety. “I went into a Starbucks,” she said.
She headed for the train station to get home. “They had stopped the trains and people were gathering at the station. It became overwhelming for me and I started running home.”
She ran a good 45 minutes until she was home in the Longwood area of Boston.
She said she became separated from her friends. City authorities shut down the mobile phones and everyone was in the dark about what had happened to each other. The first thing she said when the phones opened up was to call her mother in Saudi Arabia. “She was trying to reach me, and I told her when I called that I was all right.”
The bombings had a lingering effect on her, but returning to her normal schedule is the only option.
“To be honest, all of us were scared about going back to school,” Mufti said. “But school opened today and there is grief counseling available for those emotionally impacted. I plan to go to school today.”

 

April 7, 2013

Ministry of Interior outlines stiff penalties for iqama violations

Filed under: Uncategorized — Rob L. Wagner @ 05:33
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By Rob L. Wagner

Arab News

7 April 2013

Employers and expatriate workers face steep fines and jail time if they violate iqama and visa laws established by the Ministry of Interior, according to the ministry.
Saudi businessmen and women responding to the Ministry of Labor’s raids over the past week have gone to social media to promote and discuss the Interior Ministry’s “Iqama System Violations & Penalties” web page that outlines Iqama and visa violations, and their consequences.
The ministry outlined 34 violations ranging from expatriates failing to provide proof of residency to forgery to employers hiring workers on a visitor’s visa. Fines range from SR 1,000 to SR 50,000 depending on the violation, according the MoI.
Ibrahim Muhammad, who is retired from the Ministry of Interior, said yesterday that the Ministry of Labor should emphasize the guidelines every time an expatriate renews or replaces his Iqama. “More light should be placed on the issue by the media and business people to make sure there is no misunderstanding of what can happen to people who violate the law,” Muhammad said.
Expatriates found violating routine regulations, such as failing to renew an iqama three days before its expiration date, face relatively light fines. Those fines may include paying double the Iqama fees. A resident failing to prove that he holds an Iqama faces a SR 1,000 fine for the first violation, SR 2,000 for the second offense and SR 3,000 for the third violation.
But agents who help expatriates obtain forged documents or employers who harbor overstayers or employ an undocumented worker face much more severe penalties. Saudi citizens who help an expat obtain a forged Iqama face fines of up to SR 15,000 and three months in jail. Expats who forge Iqamas or visas face up to three months in jail or a SR 10,000 fine. Individuals sheltering overstayers can expect to pay as much as SR 30,000 in fines and have their names published in the local press. Fines are multiplied for each overstayer involved.
“That’s what I call justice,” said a Saudi sponsor, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “It should not just be expats who are fined or put in prison.”
The Ministry of Interior also targets Haj and Umrah pilgrims who refuse to leave after their visas expire. Haj and Umrah pilgrims who remain in the country and become self-employed could be imprisoned for one month and receive a SR 10,000 fine. Haj company owners who transport pilgrims outside established routes face up to SR 30,000 fines and six months in jail.
The stiffest penalties are reserved for employers “allowing his employees to work on their own account or in return for payment to the sponsor.” Penalties range from SR 5,000 fines and one month in jail up to SR 50,000 and three months in jail for the third offense. Employing undocumented workers could also mean a SR 50,000 fine and three months in jail.

February 10, 2013

Saudi Students Hunkering Down During US Storm

Filed under: Uncategorized — Rob L. Wagner @ 09:26
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By Rob L. Wagner

Arab News

10 January 2013

As a massive storm dropped at least two feet of snow on northeast US on Saturday, Saudi university students scrambled to stock up with food, stay indoors and prepare for the possibility of losing power.
Yet some Saudi students were so enamored with their first experience in the snow, they didn’t heed warnings from local law authorities to stay inside.
“Some Saudi students, stupidly, were too excited of seeing the snow for the first time and went out playing and taking pictures despite the local authorities warning against going out,” said Howiyda Alyebaawi, 21, of Madinah and studying English in Boston. “They were so excited to post pictures, but it is a very serious condition.”
The storm walloped Massachusetts and Connecticut with winds up to 82 mph. More than 650,000 homes and business lost power. Boston had 22 inches of snow late on Saturday.
“The situation is very complicated and hard to deal with for Americans in general, speak not for people coming from a hot country,” Alyebaawi said. “We have never experienced such weather, nor do we really know how to deal with it.”
Alyebaawi said Massachusetts authorities sent an automated telephone message advising residents to stay indoors and stock up on food, water, batteries, medication and first aid kits. The Saudi cultural attaché sent an e-mail in Arabic.
“We were not very happy about receiving the e-mail because not all students are keen to check their e-mails every day, and if they didn’t understand the automated message in English, there could have been problems,” Alyebaawi said.
She added: “I wish we received a call from the cultural attaché. We understand they can’t call everybody, but at least the ones in Boston, who are hardest hit.”
English language student Abdullah Jawhar, 37, of Jeddah and who lives in the Boston suburb of Chelsea, said it is difficult for most students to take public transportation from the outskirts of Boston to the city center.
He noted that the storm hit just when his monthly allowance arrived. “We just got paid, so we stocked up well. If the storm came at the end of the month, we would be in trouble.”

 

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