KSA’s Runaway Employees

You’ve probably heard about the runaway employees in Saudi-Arabia. Most of these workers are Asian so called “cheap labor” that work as maids or drivers. They run away for various reasons but one of the biggest temptations for them is to work as “freelancer” ie, illegally and earn more. Illegals are a huge problem in the Kingdom and they cause harm to society in many ways. The recruiter companies and employers suffer financially from this phenomenon as well. There is lots of money involved in obtaining visas and in the process of bringing them into Saudi Arabia in the first place.

For example, to bring in a maid or a driver to KSA, the employer must pay recruitment company and agency fees and visa charges from 15000-20,000 SAR. If the employee “escapes”, in other words leaves the employer and does a disappearing act, the employer will get no compensation, in fact, the employer will get fined up to 100,000 sr, unless they report said employee as “runaway” to the Ministry. The runaway worker will be deported, if caught.

A lesser known and much less common but real phenomenon are the western runaway employees. I have witnessed several such cases where employees made a disappearing act on their employer. All cases were western medical staff, men and women.

The hospital pays even more to recruit the highly sought after western employees, around 20,000 SAR each. It is naturally in their best interest to keep the employees satisfied and working within the company for at least their one year contract which is the most common for nurses to sign on for.

So what happens, why do the employees run away? And where to?

Unlike the Asian runaways that always stay in the country working in the blackmarket, their western partners in crime run back to their home countries.

The reasons are numerous, but most commonly it’s the easiest way out for the employee to just disappear if they are not liking life in Saudi-Arabia. Resigning and the final exit process takes months and many stressful hours of going from one office to another, gathering signatures, stamps and all sorts of paperwork before the employee is allowed to leave the Kingdom. By completing the final exit process the employee receives their annual or end of contract bonus as well.
Leaving without a trace might be easier for the employee, but morally I would say it is WRONG.

Like I mentioned, the employer pays and does a great deal of work to recruit a western worker. The process of the final exit is there for a reason, although it could be done more swiftly without all the bureaucratic nonsense, the employee has still signed a contract and running away is breaking that contract. I don’t see these very people violating their employment contacts in their home countries, so where does this disrespect stem from?

Personally I never understood why those people chose to escape, rather than to just honestly resign and leave the Kingdom with dignity and not as a refugee of some sort. In most cases the employee had only a few months to go after the contact would have ended in any case. So why not just hang in there for a little but longer? I’m such a tough cookie myself that I would say you can even stand on your head for two months, rather than make a fool out of yourself or to be dishonest.

Most of the runaways I knew hated life and work in the Kingdom, or could not cope at all and one got engaged and ran away to get married. The employees left for their annual leave with an exit re-entry visa and never returned. They packed up as much of their stuff as they could and in fear of getting caught did not tell anyone of their plans until they were outside the Kingdom. Once home they called the employer and their friends that they will never return. This leaves the employer in trouble and also the friends in a situation where they might feel betrayed and also forced to pack the rest of the belongings and send it over to the escapee.
Needless to say the runaway would have a hard time trying to find employment again in Saudi-Arabia, but I doubt it has a big impact on their future employment in their home countries.

What do you think of these runaway employees? Are they doing the right thing? Is it ok to break the contract in a country they will most likely never return to? Is it acceptable for them to leave without notifying the employer if they feel very stressed out?



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Hello there, I’m Laura, the author of Blue Abaya, the first travel blog in Saudi Arabia established in 2010. I’ve been traveling around and exploring Saudi Arabia since 2008.
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  • SoileJanuary 7, 2012 - 8:27 am

    I totally agree with you, and I especially never really understood people running away when they only had a couple of months to go. If you survived 9-10 months, surely you could manage the last few, and walk away with a nice bonus as well!ReplyCancel

  • NoorJanuary 7, 2012 - 11:51 am

    I had never thought about westerns doing that and it does seem silly as they could leave if they wanted to pretty much. I rather just have a clean slate and do it the right way if I was them..ReplyCancel

  • //aNNiKaJanuary 7, 2012 - 11:55 am

    Interesting that people’s conscience actually lets them do that and leave the employer in trouble.
    It just occurred to me though, that could it be that the people who run a way could have gotten a job somewhere else and don’t really have time to wait for the contract to end or leave the country and the job in a “proper and legal way”. In case it really is that slow and troublesome to resign over there. Maybe they just want to leave so bad and already have a “new life” or job waiting for them somewhere else. Not that it makes it any better to leave without saying a thing.ReplyCancel

  • Chick Flick JournalJanuary 7, 2012 - 12:57 pm

    I agree with you. out of experience most of the runaway employees end up in big trouble or leading a much more hectic life than what they had before.ReplyCancel

  • AnonymousJanuary 7, 2012 - 1:00 pm

    Salaam,but what about the muslims who runaway, can they ever return to perform haj or umrah?ReplyCancel

  • Om Lujain©January 7, 2012 - 6:11 pm

    I have witnessed this often… even as far as dumping the company car in some unknown place and taking a taxi to the airport! Some we have known had left with company owned laptops, mobiles etc. I think it is wrong! Can u imagine if they ever become Muslim? They would have a veryyy hard time getting a hajj or 3mra visa!ReplyCancel

  • LaylahJanuary 7, 2012 - 7:04 pm

    Soile-I know, to me it makes no sense, why “suffer” 10 months then leave with only a few more weeks to go, not getting bonus and forever ruining your job opportunities in Saudi-Arabia.ReplyCancel

  • LaylahJanuary 7, 2012 - 7:06 pm

    Noor-exactly,would be best to leave with clean slate, especially if the next employer asks for job certificate from previous workplace, and they have nothing to show, isn’t that a bit shady?ReplyCancel

  • LaylahJanuary 7, 2012 - 7:07 pm

    Annika-it is weird because the same people would not do it back home..All of the people I know who did this did not have any job waiting back home, on the contrary they were going to take a small holiday before returning.ReplyCancel

  • LaylahJanuary 7, 2012 - 7:09 pm

    CFJ-well the western employee does not end up with much trouble back home, other than of course not having any proof of having worked there. But those Asian runaways do put themselves in a really stressful and even dangerous situation..ReplyCancel

  • LaylahJanuary 7, 2012 - 7:12 pm

    Om Lujain-wow I didn’t know that! So it’s not only the medical field it seems it’s pretty wide spread phenomenon among western expats, unfortunately!

    Gives a really bad and unreliable impression of that nationality! We should remember that people tend to generalize things like this really easily and start saying oh those “x” nationality are so dishonest!ReplyCancel

  • AnonymousJanuary 8, 2012 - 8:35 am

    It would be nice to say that all people, all over the world, should honour contracts with employers.

    In some cases, I understand that employers have to spend money to secure ex-pat staff for all kinds of bureaucratic reasons. I’m not sure that that makes it the responsibility of the ex-pats though and, from what I have read, leaving before the end of a contract can be just as bureaucratic.

    I don’t know this for a fact, but it may be that ex-pats are concerned that if they try to leave before the contract ends, they may fear that the employer will simply stop paying them. Just a thought . .

    Also, it would be great if everyone was able to grin and bear difficulties and honour commitments, regardless of how bad an experience they were having.

    Life ain’t like that though and in the end, people should be free to make and/or break commitments and learn from their experiences.ReplyCancel

  • Cinnamon SnowJanuary 8, 2012 - 2:20 pm

    It’s dishonest. At the same time ,what does the situation looks like when an employer want to fire the employee? Is it “ok, we want to terminta the contract with you so you have one month of work then one more month on the visa to either find a new job or pack your stuff and leave” or is it” leave now, your visa will be cancelled and you have X time to leave?ReplyCancel

  • Meraj KhattakJanuary 9, 2012 - 8:55 am

    It is dishonesty simply. I think they should wait till the contract term ends and then the job with dignity and honor.

    But I also heard (from Asians mostly), that the contract they signed was of one amount and then upon joining job they started getting less amount where employers were not giving them about 10% or more of their salaries as they wanted to keep it as security so they couldn’t escape. Even in that case, some escapes back to home or start working some other places.ReplyCancel

  • LaylahJanuary 11, 2012 - 12:14 am

    Cinnamon Snow-the policy for termination of contract is stated in the initial employment contracts really clearly and there are usually grave reasons for termination, they can’t just do it without any reasons. The timeline is 2 months usually.ReplyCancel

  • LaylahJanuary 11, 2012 - 12:16 am

    Meraj-that rarely ever happens, at least I never heard that a western employee was not paid what they were promised. Unfortunately it’s often the asians that are conned by some employers!ReplyCancel

  • GeoffApril 7, 2012 - 6:33 am

    Hi Laylah,

    I know I’m a little late to this conversation but in light of recent events in my life in Saudi, I thought I would mention something. As an American totally new to the idea of a work “contract”, I checked the salary and terms carefully. One huge mistake I made was believing verbal promises AKA lies. I was promised either a housing allowance or first class accommodations. I arrived and was placed in a bug ridden “apartment hotel” that did not provide towels, toilet paper or room cleaning of any kind. I was there for almost 4 months. I was promised by my recruiter the ability to travel, in fact it was touted as a great advantage to working here. I was told that on a weekend or short work week, I could hop a flight to Mumbai, Abu Dhabi, Bahrain, Egypt…wherever I wanted, as long as I returned to work at the appointed time. Upon my arrival I had to surrender my passport in order to receive my Iqama and it has not been returned to me but has rather been “stored for safety” at an office in another part of the Kingdom. After months of trying to rectify these two situations we have managed to receive half of our housing allowances. Our passports are still being held, and after sending three written requests for their return and an entry exit visa, was finally told 2 weeks ago that the owner has decided that in the interests of keeping employees safe they may not leave the Kingdom except on annual leave. I have done my best to argue, written additional requests and have even gently suggested that due to this problem, I may not renew my contract.

    I have been told by fellow expats of non-American origin to “stomp my feet” and threaten to go to the US embassy with my complaints. I have so far avoided doing this and hope to be able to work this out with someone. Our owner and sponsor is in poor health, is not available to us (I’ve never even met him). An Egyptian expat and I were talking, I asked him if this situation wasn’t “Haram”, he said “no, not really, not in the eyes of a Saudi”, First of all you’re not Saudi, second of all you’re not Saudi, thirdly your not Muslim. Lying to you in the recruitment process is considered simply the means that justify the end result.

    In light of this…I will probably finish my “time” and not renew my contract, I might, I don’t know yet…But if this is the way employers treat their employees in the Kingdom, than I can understand “running away” completely.ReplyCancel

  • AnonymousJuly 27, 2012 - 12:49 am

    Many reasons that people runaway:

    1. Bureaucratic process
    2. Timelines for new job
    3. Pay not on time or not at all
    4. Employer dishonored contract (housing issues (mold, location, other), work environment)
    5. Promised travel, not allowed
    6. Withholding passports
    7. Watching the emergency leave for 60 year old man delay 3 or 4 weeks, then he received surgery upon arrival in U.S.
    8. Disrespect for expertise
    9. and ultimately a family emergency

    These were all reasons my roommate did not re-enter after leaving for a family health-related emergency. My colleagues and I heard that his grandfather was on his death bed, but sort of assumed that the story may or may not be true because the other reasons make a stronger case.

    This happened 1.5 years ago and now we want him to come back for a conference to recruit students to his university. Any idea what his legal status might be and if he could be granted a business visa for such a short term trip?

    Thanks for sharing the knowledge!ReplyCancel

  • AnonymousFebruary 10, 2013 - 6:52 pm


  • LaylaFebruary 11, 2013 - 1:13 pm

    hi there! Sorry to hear they are treating you so badly. Could you try and contact your embassy before you make any decisions, try and call them and ask for advice.ReplyCancel

  • Carol WilliamsJune 13, 2013 - 10:00 pm

    I have just discovered your blog and find it extremely interesting. Sorry this is so late but I have only been in Saudi Arabia for around 9 months and have had both positive and negative experiences. Regarding the comments about expats running away I can fully understand why they may do this. I am a Brit teaching in the Kingdom and like other bloggers have been lied to since the day I signed my contract in the UK. Lied to about working conditions, accommodation allowances, transport allowances, etc, etc. Many of my colleagues have experienced the same lies. I was also put into a cockroach infested hotel apartment with absolutely no basic facilities. (Not the compound I was promised) I arrived here with a contract for a university in Riyadh and was immediately sent to another city. I am currently trying to find out exactly when my contract finishes and cannot get a straight answer. Emails and telephone calls are ignored. Having the ability to travel to other parts of the Middle East, which was my plan, is a joke. Despite being promised a multiple exit visa I have never received one. The reason given by my manager “The company are scared that with this freedom I might try to escape”. What does that say about their treatment of foreign employees!!!
    In spite of all my complaints I have met some amazing people here, I thoroughly enjoyed teaching the Saudi Girls and will complete my contract.ReplyCancel

  • AZEEMApril 19, 2014 - 9:05 am

    Dear Sir,

    i runaway from saudi arab before 2yrs due to my company owner and due to his fake allegation that i have done 7 hundred thousand riyal scam in his company.ReplyCancel

  • renFebruary 19, 2015 - 1:26 am

    im under of agency here in riyadh.Can i ask you i have a plan to scape wat i will happened after ? I can take again a new passport here cause my passport is in my agency . And how about case for what case should be give it to me?? And how about if i go return to my ciuntryReplyCancel

  • Ruth MasindeOctober 27, 2015 - 10:55 pm

    But what if ,they run with there papers ,Igama ,Passport ( Maids ).ReplyCancel

  • MasindeOctober 28, 2015 - 2:31 am

    What if they run with there papers (igama, Passport) .ReplyCancel

  • Syed HashimDecember 3, 2015 - 7:23 pm

    Every one scare about a word “Huroob”, You mentioned it very well in your blog. The problem is to those who really face it, Its a lost of time, money and so many tensions. May Allah bless us.ReplyCancel

  • rochelle sanchezOctober 16, 2016 - 2:19 pm

    hi rochel working as a d.h in riyadh before 2008 but my khafil did not give my salary then i choose to run away.but after 10 months.i catch by mhutawa and send me to jail in mhalaz i stay there for 2 weeks then they send me to deportation.but i don know what case they file me..then they send me in my home country 2010..then i try to apply again in dammam but when im at the airport embassy get my biometric they hold me and stay at the airport and send back to my home country philippines. now i want to know if after 6years can i go back in K.S.A.. PLS SOMEONE HELP MEReplyCancel

  • Lovely insigniaDecember 12, 2016 - 3:03 pm

    Good pm… I’m pilipina I run away from my employer… Due to she don’t give me my exact salary… It’s one year now since I run away… Theirs a Saudi guy wants to marry me… Do you think I can marry him even I don’t have any papers?…. Kindly response me plsReplyCancel

  • […] wages, many westerners “run away” from their employers in KSA. Read more in this post: KSA’s Runaway Employees In most countries the nursing salaries are seen as too low compared to the education level and […]ReplyCancel

  • Nawas ButtMarch 1, 2018 - 2:05 am

    For all that are curious about applying to work at the KSA, make sure your contract has exact info in the contract. The aramco recruiters they have this very fake smile in the form of taqqiya that they may offer so much verbally but very differently in reality.ReplyCancel

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