Over the past couple of months, I have received several calls from expatriate friends of mine who were dismayed at their portrayal in the media, particularly after the Saudization program began and was followed by the Nitaqat system.
Among the things that were upsetting to them was to read allegations that they held on to their jobs through “unfair means,” transfer billions abroad, and that some of them have a haughty attitude.
While I strongly believe that providing or creating jobs by the government is necessary and that nationals have first go at these openings, I also believe that the whole issue should be dealt with in a proper manner.
Media reports of expatriates transferring billions of riyals overseas do crop up every now and then, and it is true enough that expatriates do transfer large amounts of their salaries abroad. But these “heroic” writers who are playing to the gallery fail to realize how much the expatriate worker, whether in the field of production or services, contributes to the GDP of the Kingdom. Add to that the fact that they cannot own residential property here – an investment in other words – and since it is not easy to bring their families to the Kingdom, many workers, even those with white collar jobs, have to remit funds to their loved ones as they are the breadwinners of the family.
However, by and large, many simple-minded people don’t know this and xenophobia creeps into our mental process. Thus the finger-pointing sessions start. It is sad. Just look around calmly at the expatriates that we love to deride. How many hospitals can function without the gentle care of the Filipino staff? What about the doctors in far-flung areas where many Saudi doctors refuse to go?
Or consider for a moment the army in yellow, purple or blue uniforms, the Bangladeshi cleaners who work from dawn to dusk keeping our streets clean as we randomly throw garbage of all sorts from cars or just drop it without a care.
And for those of my generation, think about the teachers who came from abroad – who toiled to give us a good education and were an example of noble virtues. The simple truth is that they came here because they were asked by us; and more significantly because we either could not or would not do their jobs.
Many voluntarily separated from their young families and, due to infrequent leave allocations, were unable to return to see their children grow up.
These people have the same feelings, responsibilities and emotional ties that we do. Too often they are written off as just the “hired help” and occasionally treated abominably.
In my own case, I am grateful for the training I received at Saudia when it was managed by TWA. Those were great days and we were all imbued with the spirit that TWA was famous for.
It resulted in Saudi becoming one of the ten best airlines in the world.
The difference between then and now is that we had the humility to learn and serve. And in almost all companies Saudis and expatriates worked as one group.
Yes, the job market has shrunk now and statistics show there are far more expatriates than before. But who brought them? We did. They didn’t land by parachute. In many cases people were brought through open visas and as such crowded the diminishing job market – but that is not their fault.
Many Saudis have told me that they owe a lot to their expatriate colleagues and have maintained relations years after they left the country. I am always happy to hear that.
Expatriates have contributed to the building of this country.
They braved hot weather, freezing winters, some tricky sponsors and at times experienced tough moments as strangers in a strange land. Yet they stuck to their guns.
True they also gained in terms of financial benefits, but we gained too.
This is a simple business deal: they come, they work, we pay, deal done.
Moreover, very often the expatriates train Saudi colleagues who then, given their competence, take over the job.
Today as many of our young people take over jobs in fancy buildings, use service facilities across the country and have an education in a modern institution, they need to realize that the expatriate had a lot to do with it. There is a saying that goes, “A man who does not thank people does not thank God.”
And here I would like to stress to all Saudis to sit and ponder for a while and join me in a vote of thanks to all the wonderful men and women who came from around the globe and helped us build our country.
I am forever grateful to them.
*the author can be reached at email@example.com followed on Twitter: @KhaledAlmaeena
This article has first been published in Saudi Gazette