Yesterday afternoon, Mr. Mostafa sent me a text that said, “I have amazing news about your future in Saudi Arabia.”
I replied, “Ooooh, what?”
His response? “I’ll tell you when I get home.”
When he got home, he was giddy. “Have your friends told you the news yet?” he inquired. Obviously, he really wanted to be the first one to tell me whatever it was he had to tell me, but he was also itching to dangle the carrot.
I admit, I was very much hoping that the big news was that women were going to be permitted to drive. So when he finally did tell me about the new regulations, I was a tad disappointed. But that only lasted a second. Because honestly, these new rules needed to happen first. In the long run, they’re more important–at least from my point of view as a non-Saudi mom to a Saudi (-American) child…as selfish as that may be.
There’s a long list of them, all long overdue. They all apply to non-Saudi mothers of Saudi children–i.e., non-Saudi women who are married to Saudi men, or were at some point.
1. The first, and probably without question the most important, is that we now have permanent residency in the Kingdom, whether or not we are still married to our husbands. We don’t have to have a sponsor to be here. This is huge.
Although Westerners (at least, Westerners not involved romantically with a Saudi) often scoff at the idea of coming to Saudi Arabia (“Why would I want to visit there?”), the truth is, even if they wanted to come here, they probably couldn’t. Saudi Arabia is a tough place to get into. It’s tough to stay here, too. Until now, all non-citizens had to be sponsored for residency in the country, whether by a spouse, a family member, or an employer…unless coming for Hajj or Umrah, and even then there is a lengthy list of requirements for entry. And the first warning that a non-Saudi woman considering marriage to a Saudi always gets is that if there is a divorce, the man can revoke the woman’s iqama and kick her out of the country…without her kids.
That can’t happen anymore. Of course, custody arrangements in Saudi Arabian courts still heavily favor the father, and if he wants to, the man can do his best to keep the kids away from their mom. There is no law that can require someone to not be a jerk. But one thing he can no longer do is unceremoniously divorce his kids’ mom and throw her out of the country, never to see her babies again.
Furthermore, before these laws were established, if, God forbid, my husband died, I would have had to be sponsored by someone else in the family in order to stay here. I hate thinking about that, but knowing that I can now stay here and have all the rights of a Saudi wife if something should happen to Mr. Mostafa…well, that was a major relief for him. And for me.
And you know what? Sponsoring an iqama for a non-Saudi wife is expensive (or at least, it used to be). Mr. Mostafa paid 2,000 riyals (about $533) for a four-year iqama for me. We won’t have to do that anymore.
I used to always advise non-Saudi women considering marriage to a Saudi to finish their education before making the move to Saudi Arabia, because if the worst happens and a divorce occurs, the woman can at least find a job and get an employer-sponsored iqama, so she can stay in the country with her children. That employer-sponsored iqama is no longer necessary. Once you have a baby with your Saudi husband, your future in the Kingdom is safe. However, I still highly recommend finishing that education before moving here, because now…
2. We are allowed to work. Before these new laws, spouse-sponsored iqamas stated explicitly that we were not permitted to work. There was always speculation that this was untrue, that the authorities would look the other way if you were caught working. Other times we heard that we were absolutely not allowed to work. But now, it’s official: we can work. And not only can we work…
3. If we are hired, we count toward employers’ Saudization numbers. See, by law, Saudi companies have to employ a certain percentage of Saudi workers (the percentage depends on the industry). So now if a company hires us, we contribute to that company’s Saudization percentage. In other words…we have just been made eminently employable, if we weren’t already. Awesome!
4. We are now allowed to study for free in Saudi universities. This is so exciting for a school addict like me. I don’t know how many classes are offered in English, but even if there are no English classes available in areas in which I would like to study, I’m looking forward to at least taking some Arabic language classes at some point. Sadly, free higher education is something that I could only dream of in the States.
5. We are now allowed to receive free healthcare in Saudi public hospitals. We use the private hospitals here, because we have insurance through Mr. Mostafa’s company. But if I didn’t have insurance, I could go to a public hospital and receive care for free, just like Lavender and Mr. Mostafa. Again, this is something that I could only dream of in the States.
Basically, we non-Saudi moms of Saudi children now have all the rights of a Saudi woman. You may say, “Psshh, like that’s anything to get excited about,” but believe it or not, it really is. In fact, sadly enough, we’re now a bit ahead of Saudi women, because we can already travel without our husbands’ permission. Our lives have been made a lot better by these regulations.
Honestly, the only drawback that I can think of is that now, it might get even more difficult for Saudi men to obtain permission to marry a non-Saudi woman, since as soon as that non-Saudi wife has a baby, she is, for all intents and purposes, Saudi. The powers that be have come as close as they can to giving non-Saudi wives the Saudi citizenship without actually doing so; I can see them becoming a lot more strict about who is permitted to marry a Saudi, since all that stands between Saudi Arabia and a new foreign permanent resident is nine months.
All-in-all, I’m very much thrilled about these new developments. Finally, foreign wives of Saudis have rights. Basically, it’s now pretty much assured that these two…
are totally stuck with me…