A Wife’s Sponsorship Woes
By Sameera Aziz
15 April 2009
UNDER Saudi laws, a woman’s guardian is her husband, father, brother or son. However, despite the rule of the land, there are many expatriate wives who are sponsored by their families (or close relatives) or employers instead of having their sponsorship transferred to their husband after marriage.
“This happens usually when both the husband and wife have been iqama holders before their marriage. Some husbands do not transfer their wife’s iqama to their sponsorship after marriage due to several reasons, a common reason being their careless attitude,” said Muhammad Imran Asar, a freelance legal adviser.
“There can be complications if the wife is not under the iqama of her spouse. For example, when the husband leaves on final exit, the wife may have to remain in the Kingdom,” he said.
Some expatriates who are already married choose a wife who is either a Saudi or holds an iqama obtained by her parents, as they are not permitted to sponsor more than one wife. Moreover, those in a non-supervisory profession and earning a salary less than SR3,500 are not eligible to sponsor their wives, which often results in them marrying an iqama holder. The wife’s father can transfer her sponsorship (nakal kafala’h) to the husband. However, there are also those husbands who do not want to transfer their wives’ iqama to their name so as to deprive them of their legal rights.
Aliya Majeed (name changed), a Canadian national who married a Pakistani expatriate four years ago, says she often faces problems because her husband did not get her iqama transferred to his name. “I was not admitted to the hospital at the time of my delivery. My husband often physically harasses me, but I cannot complain to the police as I have no proof of my marriage other than a nikah document (marriage certificate). He says that if I go to the police, he will tell them that the document is a fake,” Majeed said.
She said her husband does not pay for any of her expenses and, instead, keeps asking her for money.
“He married me to obtain Canadian nationality, and because he could not do so, I doubt that he will one day leave the Kingdom abandoning me and our child.
Basha Nawaz Khan, an international legal expert, said the Shariah law lays down the principles of the Muslim marriage act of Saudi Arabia which says that the wife’s name should be mentioned in her husband’s residence permit. “After marriage, it is relevant according to the local law that the wife’s name be entered in the husband’s residence permit,” he said.
The local law defines that a woman’s name should be entered in her husband’s, father’s, or any other guardian’s iqama. “According to the local passport authority act of Saudi Arabia, a woman’s name should be transferred to her husband’s work permit immediately after their marriage,” said Khan.
Ardil Abat, a Pilipino IT manager in Jeddah, will be leaving for Kuwait for a two-year stay. His wife, Jeena Ardil, whose parents live here, does not want to go back to Manila as she thinks doing so may affect her children’s studies.
“In this case, she can get her iqama transferred to her father’s (guardian) work permit,” advised Khan. He said that if a woman does not have a guardian (father/husband), then the respective consulate’s community welfare department in the Kingdom can be declared as her guardian and a third party. “However, consulates take sponsorship in rare cases and the woman is deported to her country immediately if she does not have a mahram (eligible close relative according to Shariah) for her guardianship,” added Khan.
Dr. Pretty Agarwal (name changed), an Indian, is sponsored by a private hospital in Jeddah where she is employed. She married a colleague nine years ago and has continued with her job ever since by obtaining a ‘no objection certificate’ (NOC) from her husband. “Her employer is not entitled to her sponsorship directly without the permission of her husband/father/guardian/consulate,” said Khan.
After marriage, preference for sponsorship is given to the husband rather than the wife’s employer. She can work only after submitting an NOC issued by her husband stipulating that she is permitted to continue working under the same sponsor. However, it should be proved that the person who has issued the NOC is her husband. “The Shariah law is very strict with regard to the policy of the wife’s employment. Unless the wife’s name is entered in her husband’s residentce permit, it is not proved that he is her husband,” said Khan.
When Dr. Agarwal’s husband lost his job a few years back, he came back to the Kingdom on his wife’s sponsorship. “If any woman initially works under a sponsorship, she is eligible to apply for her husband’s visa. However, this is irrelevant if both are employees,” Khan said.
He said a penalty of SR2,000 can be levied on the wife’s employer if her name is not found on her husband’s residence permit.
“However, there is no penalty if she is under her father’s iqama. As per local laws, she is not allowed to work unless the employer hiring her sponsors her,” Khan said.
At the time of registering the ‘nikah’ at the Ministry of Justice (Mehakmah Wizarat Al-Adal), details of the spouses’ parents are requested by the authorities, which with the instructions of the wife are immediately transferred to her husband’s residence permit, while also excluding the same from her father’s guardianship. “The passport department (Jawazat) does this within an hour for a fee of SR2,000, which is the same as that paid for any other general iqama transfer services,” Khan said.
He said in many long-pending cases, the husband’s salary is low because of which he does not sponsor his wife.
“This can be a problem at the time of iqama renewal. Moreover, in case of the wife’s delivery, hospitals do not admit the wife without any documentary proof of marriage. Hospitals not following this rule can be charged with a penalty of SR10,000 and the responsible doctor is punishable under the Saudi penal court,” said Khan.