March 2009: You Asked Me...

Each New Year's, we make resolutions about self-discipline and self-improvement. But some of us also think about making more dramatic changes, such as changing our residence, changing a relationship, or changing our job. So each year, during January, February, and March, we receive an exceptionally high number of inquiries about our positions in the Arabian Peninsula.

Accompanying the inquiries are questions to which the answers are generally different than they would be if you were applying for a position in the USA or Canada. And yes, for foreign employment, we can legally ask you about your health, age, and even (believe it or not) your height and weight. These are the hardest questions for us to ask.

Now, the questions which you have asked:

Q: Can a nurse with 20 years of experience apply to the King Faisal as a green card holder only, not as a US citizen?
A: The issue here is that your compensation is based on the market rate in the country of which you are a citizen. For example, if you were born in the United Kingdom, but came to the United States at a young age, and received all your education and work experience in the US, but did not acquire US citizenship, you would be paid the salary that relates to the market rate of the UK, not the US. I know this seems unfair, but there is nothing we can do about it. And yes, we have tried.

Q: I would like to know if the global recession has affected the number of jobs being offered by the healthcare sector in the Middle East.
A: It is still too early to know. We are always looking for very specialized people, of which there is a shortage worldwide. I think that, if the recession continues, people will be staying longer in their jobs in the Arabian Peninsula, which would mean fewer vacancies.

Q. How soon after accepting a job offer will I be able to start working?
A: Doing all the paperwork for a Saudi employment visa takes approximately four weeks. Only after we have your visa do we tell you that you can resign from your current position. So, depending on how much notice you have to give, you can be onsite at your new job in approximately six to eight weeks from the date you accept your offer.

Q: I am an African-American RN working in the United States. How do people in Saudi Arabia take black people?
A: I think most African-American nurses would tell you that they have been treated the same as other nurses from Western countries. But, as in any country, you may encounter people who hold racist attitudes.

Q: I am an American physician who has been convicted of a second-degree felony. I had a practice for 20 years without ever having a problem until now. Is it possible for you to help me with a job placement?
A: Concerning a felony: You have to supply a police clearance for an employment visa, and if you have a criminal record, you will not be granted a work visa. In addition, licensed professionals, such as doctors, nurses, etc., must keep their American/Canadian licenses current. If you don't have a license, you can't practice in the Arabian Peninsula.

Q: Both my husband and I are ICU nurses with eight and 14 years experience. How would "single-status" work for us?
A: It is possible. Some employers will not hire couples; some will not hire couples into the same unit. It is also not accepted that one spouse would manage/supervise another spouse. But if you work in different units, and you would each have a single-status contract, it may be possible to live to together in married housing, but it would depend on housing availability. Dependents could not accompany you.

Q: I am concerned about the medical clearance. I have several health issues (diabetes, HTN, obesity). What are the possibilities of being denied employment because of this?
A: You have to pass a thorough medical exam for a visa. In advance of this, with your initial application, you have to submit a preliminary medical questionnaire that is assessed by the hospital's Family Medicine Department. If you have preexisting health conditions, if you are on anti-depressants, or if you are obese with a BMI 35 or higher, it is highly likely that Family Medicine would disapprove you.

Q: Is there an age limit? I am 69 years old and still working.
A: Since Saudi Arabia has instituted a mandatory retirement policy, with few exceptions, you will not be offered a position if you are 60+, or will turn 60 during the period of a one-year contract.

Q: Is it common for some jobs to be gender-specific?
A: Since Saudi women do not feel comfortable having male healthcare professionals examining their bodies, there are usually a limited number of male nurses in units that treat both men and women (e.g., ICU, RR). (Typically medical imaging positions in ultrasound and general radiology are also restricted to females.) Female nurses and technologists are, however, able to work with both female and male patients. Male doctors, despite the cultural preference, examine and treat Saudi women and men.

Q: Would a Jewish female be hired as an RN or administrator? Are there any dangers for a Jew living in countries such as Saudi Arabia?
A: The application for an employment visa asks for your religion. If you state that you are Jewish, your visa application will be declined. But if you found yourself working in Saudi Arabia, you would be as safe as any other person. (Qatar does not decline people who are Jewish.)

Q: I have worked in Saudi Arabia before, but did not finish my contract due to a family medical reason. What are the chances that I would be able to get a visa again to enter the country, and is it possible to know before I undertake a lengthy application process?
A: If you wish to return to the hospital at which you previously worked, your rehireability will depend on how long you worked there before you left, what the quality of your work and working relationships were, and the reason for your early departure. For example, if you left after, say, six months of employment because your boyfriend missed you, or if you left because a close family member became seriously ill and you had to care for her/him, the hospital would look at these situations very differently. And yes, we contact a hospital in advance to determine whether they will rehire you.

Q: Question on healthcare coverage: What if the hospital does not perform the services you require?

A: In the past, when this has happened, the hospital at which an individual was working has referred the employee to a local hospital where the service was offered.

Please continue to send your questions.

Helen Ziegler

March, 2009

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