Sept 2009: The Complex Issue of Single-Status

The Complex Issue of Single-Status

We routinely tell people applying for staff-level positions in Saudi Arabia (and other gulf countries) that, if you are married, you cannot bring your spouse with you. And even if you were able to obtain special permission to bring your spouse, the hospital would not pay for visa costs, relocation airfare, housing costs, healthcare, etc., for a spouse or children. Therefore, we were recently surprised to receive the following query posted to our website:

I AM A CANADIAN NURSE WITH A CONTRACT … IN JEDDAH, SAUDI ARABIA. I WILL BE GETTING MARRIED 1 MONTH BEFORE MY CONTRACT STARTS. THE EMPLOYER STATES THAT I CAN BRING MY HUSBAND BUT WE WILL HAVE TO FIND OUR OWN ACCOMODATIONS USING MY ALOTTED HOUSING SALARY FOR THESE ACCOMODATIONS. I WILL HAVE TO SUBSIDIZE LIVING COST SOMEWHAT SO IT MAY COST A LITTLE BIT BUT HAVING MY HUSBAND THERE IS WORTH IT. HE CAN LOOK FOR WORK WHILE HE IS THERE. I WAS WONDERING WHY YOU SAY THAT HUSBANDS ARE NOT ALLOWED ON A NURSES SINGLE CONTRACT????

An expansion of our answer:

Generally, Saudi Arabia does not allow expatriate women to sponsor a visa for their husbands or dependents. With special exceptions, which must be granted both by the employer and the Saudi Government, we have obtained permission for a female physician or female senior administrator to sponsor a spouse.

If a position is in mid-level clinical management, such as Nurse Managers, Laboratory Supervisors, etc., men are offered married-status contracts (which pay for airfare, housing, healthcare, and children's education for the spouse and two children); however, women are offered single- status contracts.

Now, if a woman on a single-status contract is, under some condition, given permission to sponsor her husband, she will certainly face a number of complications, including financial strain. (Keep in mind that most people traveling to the Middle East are looking to save money.)

First, on a single-status contract, she would be responsible for her husband's visa medical costs, visa application costs, and airfare. Further, the hospital would not offer benefits for her husband and health insurance costs would amount to thousands of dollars. (These costs would, of course, also apply to a man on a single-status contract who obtained permission to sponsor his wife.)

Regarding accommodations: If a woman were allowed to sponsor her husband, she would not be allowed to live in hospital- provided housing. (It is also not common for an employer to give a woman a housing allowance in lieu of hospital- provided housing.) She would not be able to rent property in her name, and a person with property to rent would not usually rent to a foreign, unemployed man. Also, we are told by our contacts in Saudi Arabia that property is often rented for extended periods of time (with payment up-front) rather than, as in North America, on a month-to-month basis. So, should she even be able to rent accommodations, with the high cost of housing, her savings would significantly be reduced.

Since women cannot drive, she would have to hire a personal driver, or pay for a cab to/from work daily, or have her husband drive her to/from work daily, all of which would be expensive. Not complicated enough? Her husband wouldn't be able to obtain a Saudi driver's license without an igama (residency permit), and he could not get a car without a Saudi driver's license.

Depending on her husband's profession/experience, he may find it very difficult to find a job in his field in Saudi Arabia. And, if he found work similar to what he does at home, he may be working for a fraction of his present income, as he would be competing directly with individuals from Asian countries.

So if you call our office inquiring about a position in the Middle East, two of the first questions we will ask you is if you are married, and what is your spouse's profession. If, for example, you are a Registered Nurse and your husband works as an engineer, we would recommend that he find a position first, before you considered relocation. Positions for experienced RNs in acute-care are usually available.

And, referring back to the query posted on our website, thinking things may have changed, we immediately contacted the hospital which the nurse said offered her a contract, to ask if a staff nurse would be able to sponsor her husband. The answer was no.

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