I’m almost (relatively) free, you guys.
Recently it was announced in the newspaper that the government was officially ready to accept applications for a whole new kind of residency status for the mothers of Saudi children. With this new residency, any woman who is or was married to a Saudi man legally (with government permission) and was the mother of his child(ren) would be allowed to live in Saudi Arabia without the need of a sponsor. Meaning women like myself, or those whose husbands have died, is able to stay in the country without having to jump through any hoops. Additionally, we are allowed to legally work, we will be granted free government healthcare, and we will have access to free government education.
I can’t even explain how groundbreaking this is. When I came back here 3 1/2 years ago, I never dreamed of something like this. Once the possibility of obtaining the citizenship was made nearly unobtainable, I thought I only had two option: to stay married to The Mr. or to marry someone else. But this…this new option…is a miracle.
So in comes my fantastic employer and the friendliest HR girl this side of the world to help me get myself situated. HRG called to get the rundown on what I needed to apply for the new residency and the first requirement was that the current residency permit has to expire, or…my status had to change. Meaning married needed to become “divorced” or “widowed” and since divorce was the quickest option, and since I’ve been waiting to be divorced like a little kid waits to hear Santa’s reindeer go click click click on Christmas Eve, I started the tried and true method of getting shit done with The Mr: I nagged him to death. Within a few days of near constant prodding, I was riding high in single city.
Next it was off to the court to collect my copy of the divorce certificate. Apparently, a guy cannot just insist that he will give his new ex-wife a copy of the certificate and be trusted. Because apparently divorcing your wife and just forgetting to tell her about it is a thing here. So the court will call you and let you know you’ve been given the boot and you will go and collect your own transfer of ownership.
I had to cover my face to enter the court. This is an act I am adamantly opposed to performing, but desperate times call for desperate measures. I flipped the end of my scarf over my head and cautiously navigated the crowded hallways of the courthouse. My eldest sister in law came along (against her will) for moral support and, although equally irritated with having to cover her face, came through on the support deal. I was so grateful…because we were the ONLY two women in the joint. I have to say that it was a surreal experience being able to see men looking at me…looking through me…without them being able to see who I was. It also struck me as odd that in the one place that confirming your identity would be necessary, a place where you’ve come to collect legal documents of vital importance, is the one place where your identity must be concealed. I signed where the man pointed and collected my certificate and it was over in less than 5 minutes.
Later that day I took myself, by myself, to a branch office of the infamous Jawazat, the office that handles passports, ID cards, and the like. I took all the documents that HRG said I’d need and was determined that my crappy Arabic skills would be juuuust fine. I waited, confused as could be, in a room full of people getting their fingerprints taken where one lonesome woman was working. It became clear to me that perhaps I’d gotten myself in over my head when no one could understand what the hell I was talking about when I repeatedly told them I was there to apply for a new iqama, or residency card. A frustrated call to my ex husband for translation assistance revealed to me that my time at the branch office had been wasted. Only the main branch was taking applications. I walked out of the office and down the hall toward the food court of the mall the office was located in and tears started streaming down my cheeks. I called B in an effort to make them stop, but they became worse when I tried to tell her what was wrong. I bought myself a cinnamon roll, grabbed some extra napkins, and thanked God that Saudi Arabia is a place that has curtained public seating. I closed the red velvet curtain and quietly sobbed into my cinnamon roll for an hour.
The next day at work, HRG, in the voice of an angel, was like “I told you I’d go with you!” and insisted that we take some time during the following work day to get it sorted out at the main Jawazat branch. I agreed enthusiastically and brought my papers along the next day.
I was totally intimidated when we pulled up outside the building. I expected to fight through huge crowds of pushy women and to be lazily greeted by women who could really care less about being helpful or polite. Hey, don’t blame me, the Saudi government doesn’t have the greatest reputation behind it. HRG and I were both surprised by the helpfulness and efficiency of the women working in Jawazat that morning.
We were directed to a window where a lady gave us a handwritten list of required paperwork to be submitted. There was only one list, so we were asked to take a picture of it for our reference, then we went to the seating area to organize ourselves and my paperwork. Once we had everything filled out and ready to go, we went back up to the window to turn it in. The woman working asked for each item one at a time, taking time to look it over and compare it with the original copies I’d brought along. I was given a small slip of paper and told to follow up at the same office if I hadn’t heard anything in a month and we were sent on our way.
I can’t explain the sense of relief that I felt that day. One step closer to independence in Saudi Arabia. And an enormous step forward for the rights of a select category of women in this country. HRG asked me on the way back to work if I thought that the rights for Saudi women like her would also improve someday. I can only hope they will. I hope that this step in granting rights to the mothers of Saudi children is the first in many for improving the rights of women across the country.
For those of you who are also mothers of Saudi children and are here to read about how to apply for this iqama for yourselves, please see the detailed step-by-step process below. Do not waste time! Apply as soon as you can. You know how quickly rules can change here, so take this chance while it is available to you.
Please remember that you cannot apply for the new iqama until your current iqama is due to expire unless your status has changed. It will be a waste of your time and energy to try to apply before you’re eligible.
Documents needed (originals and copies of everything):
Marriage certificate with ministry approval for your marriage
Translation of marriage certificate if it is not in Arabic
Divorce certificate (Death certificate if you are a widow)
Birth certificates for all of your children
National ID for your husband
Your passport(s) (current and, if available, the passport you entered KSA with)
Passport style picture for the new iqama
Blank white paper to be used for writing a letter to the Minister of Interior
Plenty of working pens…we had 4, all of which quit on us! Be prepared.
A letter from your husband stating his approval for you to receive the new iqama*
If you do not have the documents listed above…even one of them…you will be asked to return when you have it. *The exception goes to the letter from the husband. This item was waived for me, presumably because I’d been divorced. It’s better if you come with it anyhow, even if it is a letter from your ex husband, just to be safe.
I didn’t have a copy of my passport with me, and it took a LOT of convincing from HRG for the woman to have mercy on us and make us a copy. BE PREAPARED.
Unless you are a native level speaker/reader/writer of the Arabic language, you will 100% for sure need a helpful translator to go along with you. There are two applications to be filled out in Arabic. You will also need to write a formal letter to the Minister detailing the paperwork you are turning in and formally requesting the new residency. Seriously, do not try to go it alone. You’ll need help.
I will update this post once I actually receive the new iqama. Please feel free to ask any questions that I may not have already answered above. And please, PLEASE share this with any wife of a Saudi or mother of Saudi children that you know, even if she is not still married. This information is priceless!