New Law May Help Non-Saudi Wife

NEW LAW MAY HELP NON-SAUDI WIFE
Maha Akeel
Arab News, JEDDAH
25 June 2007

For abused non-Saudi wife Amal, the changes made in Article 16 of the Citizenship Law gives her some hope of being able to stay in Saudi Arabia legally after divorce. However, her problem lies in securing a divorce.

Amal (not her real name) has been married to a Saudi since 1992 when she came to the Kingdom to work in the health sector. Now she feels stuck with an abusive husband and fears deportation and losing access to her son if divorced.

At first, life was good with her husband. A year after marriage, she gave birth to a son. Then things deteriorated especially after he took a second and third wife, all foreigners whom he subsequently divorced. She claims that her husband began using hashish and was fired from his job eight years ago. He has been unemployed ever since, living off her salary, which he spends as he wishes because he has confiscated her ATM card and does not allow her access to her account.

Amal also claims that her husband has become violent, controlling and overly suspicious (she is in her fifties). He has cut her off from any contact with family and friends, and prevents her from leaving home. While at work, he calls her every half-hour and barges in unannounced to check on her.

At home Amal is a virtual prisoner and at work she is always on the edge. Her husband refuses to divorce her and at the same time she is afraid that if he does she will be deported because her iqama is under his sponsorship. Meanwhile, he refuses to apply for Saudi citizenship on her behalf. With fear and desperation in her voice, she said she does not know how to get out of this marriage especially since she has no family here or her country’s representative office to help her.

“Sometimes I just think that I can wait for another four years when my son turns 18 and he can apply for his ID card and then sponsor me,” she said. Although her work colleagues have expressed a willingness to help her, in the end everyone knows that everything is in her husband’s hands because she is still married and because of the Kingdom’s court system.

There is hope, however, with the new changes made in Article 16 of the Civil Law. Lawyer Omar Al-Khouli told Arab News: “The new system allows a divorced non-Saudi woman to apply for citizenship, especially if she has been married for a long time and has a child from her Saudi husband. But she has to relinquish her original citizenship.”

The changes announced by the Cabinet in March 2007 indicate that the Interior Ministry can grant Saudi citizenship to a foreign woman married to a Saudi if she applies for it and relinquishes her original citizenship, but it also states that the ministry can cancel her Saudi citizenship if she ends her marital relationship with the Saudi and retains her original citizenship or any other foreign citizenship.

However, Al-Khouli clarified that Saudi citizenship can only be canceled if the woman obtains another citizenship after being granted her Saudi citizenship, and not because she got divorced. He said that international human rights laws prohibit a country from making a person a non-citizen of any country. Saudi citizenship can also be revoked if an applicant, man or woman, was sentenced for a crime or offense with two years or more jail-time during the first 10 years of obtaining citizenship, “which I think is a long time,” said Al-Khouli.

Further, according to Al-Khouli, in the case of Amal, her son can apply for an ID card when he turns 15 and not 18. Of course, she has to be divorced before her son can sponsor her. The problem remains with securing a divorce because as long as the husband refuses to divorce, the case can drag on for a long time in court. “What she needs to do is provoke him to divorce her, otherwise if she goes to court she needs to prove that he has been violent and not a good husband, and might have to go for khula where she pays him money to divorce her,” he said.

Amal knows that she will be taking a risk in applying for a divorce because once she is out of the house, she will be on her own and in limbo between the time her divorce papers are processed and until the time she can apply for citizenship or be sponsored by her son. Even the National Society for Human Rights said that the process for helping her once she applies for divorce is long and they cannot guarantee things will go smoothly.

“Once she applies for divorce and if he does not cooperate, we can help by submitting requests on her behalf to the court, the minister of justice and then to the Royal Court. During that time, we can ask the Ministry of Social Affairs to provide her with shelter until her case is finalized,” said Etidal Al-Harbi, a social worker at the NSHR office in Jeddah.

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Tara Umm Omar

American married to a Saudi.

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