WHEN A SPONSOR NEEDS HER EMPLOYEE’S PERMISSION TO TRAVEL
By Hassna’a Mokhtar
JEDDAH: Following 18 months of wading through bureaucracy to obtain a permit that allows her to marry a foreigner, 31-year-old Hind Ibrahim is now caught up in the process of acquiring a residency permit (iqama) for her husband, an Arab with European nationality.
“I checked the web page of the Directorate General of Passports to get information on how to obtain an iqama for my husband. I found none. I went to the Ministry of Interior in Jeddah to inquire,” said Hind.
A Saudi woman married to a non-Saudi, in accordance with the Saudi law, does not automatically have the right to have her husband reside in the Kingdom with her. He is not entitled by default to an iqama unless he is already residing and working in Saudi Arabia sponsored by the company he works for. But when a Saudi man marries a foreigner, he automatically obtains an iqama for his non-Saudi wife and she gets to reside here.
The Ministry of Interior told Hind that she has to submit a letter to the minister requesting an iqama for her husband to accompany her in the country as a mahram (legal male guardian). Her husband came to Saudi Arabia on a business visa — valid for one month — to marry her. He extended his visa for three months. They are still trying to get an iqama for him.
“I have to write the letter and submit it to the ministry along with copies of the marriage permit, the marriage contract, my ID, and my husband’s passport. It took us more than a year to get married. God knows how long will it take to get the iqama,” added Hind.
Saudi laws and religious fatwas prohibit a Saudi woman from traveling, studying, working, getting married or getting a divorce, going to court, issuing or renewing identification cards and passports without her mahram’s consent. So what’s Hind to do if her husband were to be sent home?
Lamis Talal has been married to a Jordanian for the past 10 years and has three daughters with him. They applied to get the marriage permit in 1992. It took six years.
“It was an engagement put on hold. With the help of a ‘wasta’ in the Ministry of Interior we got the permission. They sent the permit to the Saudi Embassy in Jordan, where my fiancé lived,” said Lamis.
Lamis flew to Jordan to get married. She then came back alone to Saudi Arabia. She applied for a family visit visa so her husband could come here.
“After his arrival, we applied for an iqama and we received it after eight months. I’ve been my husband’s sponsor. When a Saudi woman sponsors her non-Saudi husband, he isn’t allowed to work,” said Lamis.
Ahmed Al-Ghamdi, media consultant of the Directorate General of Passports in Riyadh, told Arab News that as long as a Saudi woman married to a foreigner follows the Saudi law, it is easy for her to be her husband’s sponsor and issue him an iqama.
“Rules aren’t meant to create barriers. They are there to achieve balance in the life of a Saudi woman married to a foreigner,” said Al-Ghamdi. “It’s not true that a non-Saudi whose Saudi wife is his sponsor is prohibited from working in the country. He could work in any company she owns.”
Since a Saudi woman cannot travel outside the country without her mahram’s consent, Lamis’ husband usually obtains a paper that allows her to travel alone for business purposes. The irony of the situation is that she is his sponsor. “I’m his sponsor and I can’t travel without his written approval,” she said.
Five years ago, Lamis wanted to obtain a national identity card for herself. “I went to the Department of Civil Affairs to get an ID. They asked for my mahram to be present. When my husband went to sign the documents, they told him ‘(but) you’re not Saudi!’ My brother had to go to complete the procedures,” said Lamis.
Sheikh Abdul Rahman Al-Asiri said that it is prohibited in Islam for a brother or a father to act as a woman’s mahram when she has a husband. With regards to Lamis’ situation where the government representative insisted on a Saudi to act as a proxy to her husband, he said it might have been a special case since she was dealing with a “governmental body that deals only with Saudis.” (The Department of Civil Affairs is charged with issuing civil documents for Saudi citizens.)
Haya Al-Manie, a Saudi columnist, recently wrote in Al-Riyadh daily: “Once more, there appears to be contradictions in the official rules when it comes to marriage of Saudi women to non-Saudis. Allowing a Saudi woman to marry a non-Saudi is the same thing as allowing a Saudi man to marry a non-Saudi… I think Saudi women have every right to be given the same rights and privileges as men in this matter, especially if they married after being given the permission that allows a Saudi woman to marry a non-Saudi.”