Saudi Arabia: A housewife is not a workingwife


The Ministry of Labor has officially warned expatriates against allowing their wives who are in the Kingdom as ”housewives” to work in the private sector and said it considers anyone on a dependent visa working in the private sector as a violation of the residency laws and regulations of the Kingdom.
It further said residency permits (iqamas) clearly stipulate that dependents are not allowed to seek employment since they do not hold work permits.

“Expatriate women’s work in the private sector is not approved by the ministry’s regulations. It is impermissible for any expatriate woman who has come to the Kingdom for any purpose other than work to be employed in any job. This regulation applies to all dependents,” said Hattab Al-Enezi, the official spokesman of the Ministry of Labor.

The Ministry of Labor’s latest warning comes after several companies were accused of employing expatriate women on dependent visas to work in managerial and marketing jobs in malls, hospitals and private schools in a clear violation of the labor law.

Many wives of professionals who enter the kingdom are professionals themselves and most plan on finding some employment themselves when living in Saudi Arabia.
Tutoring English is a popular job for expat women.
And life in the kingdom can be very boring for women with nothing to do.

I find the mind set of this article interesting too; women are ”dependents”, the warning is towards the men, not to allow their women to get a job. It apparently did not come into the ministry officials heads that the women themselves might decide to get a job.

A housewife is not a workingwife.


Read more:

Saudi Gazette

The Kooza


29 Responses

  1. When I read this the first time I didn’t even notice how it was phrased. It assumes the expat is a man. I’ve certainly heard and read about expat WOMEN in the Arab world.

  2. What about women who make an income from their writing and websites (like this blog)? Where do they stand? I get work from around the world via the internet, would i be breaking the law if I accompanied my husband to Saudi as an expat?

  3. ” It is impermissible for any expatriate woman who has come to the Kingdom for any purpose other than work to be employed in any job.”

    Jerry, this sounds like some expat women do come for work, but this stipulation against women working is for those who come to KSA for purposes other than work (i.e. wives of workers.) That’s how I read it.

  4. There are tens of thousands of expat women who go to KSA explicitly for work: maids, nurses, flight attendants, teachers, etc. This article is speaking to men who are hired on contract and bring their wives with them.

  5. This is not something unusual. Any country would have the same law about foreigners, if the visa does not allow you to work. when my husband first came over to Malaysia, he was forbidden to work and was considered my dependent until we changed his visa into the spousal program.

  6. Saudi Arabia is the ‘home’ of Muslims and I believe that it should be empowering women with knowledge and skills just the way Islam does. I understand the ruling about the visa Etc and jobs should be given to locals first however, if there are opportunities to tutor and educate why not embrace these women and enhance your society? Honestly, can it become anymore ridiculous?

  7. I agree Mrs.B. In any country in the world, one must have a working visa if one wants to work. As for wives who accompany their husband under his working visa, I have many friends who teach spanish, french and english as tutors in privacy of their home.
    There are many expatriat women with contracts as teachers, doctors,nurses and engineers. The doctor who delivered my last son was from Germany, and divorced.

  8. It’s pretty well known who is “allowed” to work here and who is not; it’s stated right on your iqama. But that doesn’t stop women from finding work anyhow, and it doesn’t stop certain businesses from hiring them (such a schools) regardless of their status here.
    The problem with the current system isn’t the misbehaving wives finding work illegally, it’s that it is very difficult, not to mention dangerous, to change your sponsor to your employer once you’re already here.
    I’ve not heard word yet on if this rule applies to wives of Saudi citizens who will be living here for the rest of their lives. What are the (legal) options for work for them as “housewives”?

  9. Once again, Qatar is one step ahead of Saudi Arabia. When I was in Doha, foreign women were allowed to work in all sectors because their husbands could be their sponsors. This post is right in that life in the Gulf can be extremely boring for people (not just women) with nothing to do. It is boring even for those who are employed, let alone for those sitting at their accommodations all day. Thank goodness for the enormous bookshop that was opened near Ramada Hotel back in 2001 or life without books would have been worse than the desert!

    What’s up with not wanting to employ foreign women in Saudi Arabia? It is obvious that those jobs will not be given to Saudi women because Saudi women are prohibited from working. As for Saudi men, they are not exactly known as workaholics. In Qatar, foreign women could be managers, secretaries, teachers, even business owners! Back in 2001, I shared a flat with a British woman who ran her own real estate agency. Of course, she was only the manager of her own idea because under the law every business was to belong to a Qatari.

  10. @undertheabaya, you are absolutely right. As for your question about an expatriat married to a Saudi citizen being able to work, of coarse we can. I myself and many of my friends never took the Saudi citizenship, and all of us work(I will go back to teaching next year). When we apply for a job, we are asked about our Iqama, once they see we are married to Saudis, we are treated as citizens.

    @Reality Check, I think you most definetly need a reality check. There are thousands of foreign women working in the kingdom, and many of them single. As for Saudi women being prohibited from working..where are you getting your information from? Fox news? There are thousands of Saudi women working, and mixing as well. My husband’s niece is currently heading an IT company in Al Aqariya, and mixes with male colleagues.

    It looks like you came to Saudi some years back, but the country has changed quite a bit. There are also many bookstores available, my favorite is Jarir. We even have Starbucks serving coffee nearby(and mixing the sex’s as well). 😉

  11. RC, please check your info. Saudi women are certainly not forbidden from working. And as for the part about foreign women being able to work as managers etc, were they illegal immigrants, tourists on a limited visa or expats on a work permit? Know the difference. I have dealt personally for my husband’s spousel program and I can assure you, if he did not change his visa from tourist visa to the spouse program, he cannot work. There are rules and laws!

  12. Careful Norma, do not tell RC that she needs a reality check less you be accuse of making personal attacks…

  13. Norma,

    I was talking about those foreign women who are married.

    The article said that “the Ministry of Labor has officially warned expatriates against allowing their wives who are in the Kingdom as ”housewives” to work in the private sector and said it considers anyone on a dependent visa working in the private sector as a violation of the residency laws and regulations of the Kingdom.”

    Maybe I missed to include the word “married” but I definitely said “because their husbands could be their sponsors”.

    You need to read more carefully before making an answer. I don’t know if I need a reality check but you definitely need a new pair of glasses.

    By the way, Jarir was my favourite, too, and I was talking about Jarir in Doha.

    Mrs B,

    I have missed your long nonsensical rants for so long (24 hours in fact) that I want to thank you for chiming in with something equally useless, though a bit too short. You must be having a lot of time on your hands if I have to suffer endless notifications about your posts, which usually have nothing to do with the topic in hand.

    I could have chosen to disable those notifications entirely but I don’t want to miss Aafke’s intelligent, well-put thoughts, so I’m getting you as a “bonus” all the time.



  14. @Reality Check, unfortunately I already wear eye glasses. I did read carefully what you wrote,” It is obvious that those jobs will not be given to Saudi women because they are prohibited from working” ?? In any country in the world, one can not work “legally” without a working visa. There are many women who work without permission..they are paid cash. Thanks for making me laugh, I find myself somewhat addicted to your comments 🙂 I appreciate your views as an outsider 🙂

  15. @Mrs B, you are such a sweetie!

  16. Ah RC nice one. Maybe my ‘rant’ is nonsensical to you, but at least I don’t make racist comments about peopl’s husband. Now you are either lying or have terrible command of the English since you said “? It is obvious that those jobs will not be given to Saudi women because Saudi women are prohibited from working”.

    Dyes Normal need glasses or you need time out?

  17. thank you Norma. I think you are sweet too. although many others think i am evil for being in love with my religion.

  18. A rule is a rule is a rule.. irrespective of if you are getting bored ot not, every country has them. I have friends whose wives came on H4 ( dependent spouse) visa to US form india and are bored out of their minds, these women have no option to work legally and it’s harder to break the rules in US 🙂 IMO.

    yes they can drive and go anyplace but some of them have kids in school and it gets boring even with all the freedoms day after day, some of them are very qualified and would like to put their knowledge to good use and make money in the process, however the visa rules state no working nad no working it is.
    i do agree that once they get a job it’s much easierto change the visa status or atleast try to HERE than deal with iqamas and sponsors.

  19. I think because this is Saudi & many have “different” views about women’s places the wording is befitting to this culture. It is true that many expat women work illegally, but there’s illegal employment in all the countries of the world. I believe many housemaids are illegal too. Quite normal for the ministry to warn expats, not only expat men.

    I understand that many Saudi women don’t work simply because they’re not “allowed” to by their male guardian. I am sure there’s mingling between the sexes in some workplaces, but I keep reading & hearing that it’s not the norm. Whenever I go to the malls in the Khobar area a lot of Saudi men don’t seem to hold a job either although this is speculation.

  20. Where there is a will there is always a way for an expat dependent woman to find some type of work. The Women’s Skills Bureau in Riyadh addresses these challenges all the time. A woman may not have the legal ability to go and work inside an actual company or facility but there are many other ways she can work.

    When I first arrived in Saudi there were expat wives who would be hired as local contract hires but I think with the strong emphasis on Saudiazation that has been phased out. However, women can still engage in select contract employment. It’s a matter of being creative and thinking out of the box.

    On Wed, Mar 6, 2013 at 9:14 AM, American Bedu

  21. It’s really interesting to hear that it’s getting normal to have mingling of the sexes at work.
    And even in coffee bars?!?!
    I remember a few years ago a man and woman got arrested at a starbucks because they were doing some work there because they needed internet, and they got arrested and abused by the religious police on Khulwa charges.

    And women in Saudi Arabia can work but only if their owner allows it.
    And of course the fields in which women can work are extremely limited.

    And women behind tills are still being denounced by the clergy for ”mingling with men”, so I wonder how it is possible that there are ”normal” workplaces in Saudi outside of hospitals and in what branches of work they are?

  22. Mrs B,

    I can’t count the times when you misspelled words in your posts, so for you to talk about my “terrible” command of the English language is laughable and obnoxious. My spelling is always impeccable and my sentences – unlike yours – are built according to all rules of English grammar.

    I am a professional translator, so getting advice on my English skills from someone who doesn’t even care to start all her sentences with capital letters seems pretty ridiculous, doesn’t it? Maybe if you spent more time proofreading your own posts, they would have carried more weight.

    “Dyes Normal need glasses or you need time out?” What on earth was that supposed to mean? Did you mean “Does Norma need glasses or you need time out?” Oh, the irony of it! HA-HA-HA! You write terribly even when you try to berate other people’s command of the English language.

    If you can’t get a good grammar, please type your posts in Microsoft Word first because it has a spell-checking function for those who can’t think or don’t care enough to write well. The world doesn’t start and finish with the Quran, you know. 🙂

  23. Then you were lying then RC? Yeah I have been guilty of making spelling mistakes, my bad for typing using a handpgphone. see I did it again but I am going to leave it specially for you.Now, about Saudi women not working…you admit you’re pulling a wool over our eyes?

  24. Yes Aafke Saudi is kinda relaxing its segregation law, very very slowly but it is happening. Maybe one day we can witness a normal interaction between men and women in KSA? Unfortunately you’re right that in order to work, women still need permission from their guardian and that includes their sons.

  25. This is ridiculous! there are lots of illegal workers here without paper works and their real sponsor are sending them to work for others and pay them for sponsoring them! Those sponsors should be arrested first than wives who do not wish to be stock in the house while their husbands are at work! we chose to join our husband here but at the end of the day we will all go back to our country and we will look for a job and what will we put on our CV while we are here living with our husband for many years? are we likely to get a job without experience and being standby for years? Dubai and Qatar do allow workers to work under their husband if not father’s sponsorship! Saudi should do the same thing! There are local woman now working in the malls but they are very slow! If they were to hire all of them the business will go bankrupt!

  26. Good observation, No Name. Most indigenous people are so inefficient that it simply hurts to look at their fecklessness. When I was working for Sheraton Doha, we had these Qatari trainees who did nothing useful the whole day – they just went around flashing smiles, murmuring greetings, shaking hands with everybody in sight or spending time sprawled in an armchair, lost in small talk.

    Everybody smiled but nobody really felt it was funny. If you left your home and travelled thousands of miles to work for a company which pays you peanuts for exploiting the hell out of you and then you see the laidback locals enjoying themselves around that same workplace for a salary that is bigger than yours, all the philosophical attitude flies out the window – especially if they come and ask you to “help” them with something. (Translation: “Do my work and I’ll be really grateful … not.”)

    I have no idea when the Qatarization will be completed but the moment it is, businesses will go bankrupt like a line of domino tiles and these people will drown up to the necks in their own dirt. They have no sense of time, no sense of responsibility and no working mindset at all. The same goes for the Saudization as the Saudis are in no way better than the Qataris and, by all accounts, are even worse if that’s possible at all.

  27. im a filipina.
    What about if my husband is a saudi and i am his dependent.
    I want to get a job in a hospital and they always ask for transferring sponsorship which my husband doesn’t agree.

  28. Then don’t do it. American Bedu and her readers can’t help you with this.

  29. Good day! I just want to ask my has sponsor iqama( he own one business here in Jeddah) we are asking to transfer me under him because I am resign already as a nurse. The hospital gave me transfer letter and already stamp by chamber of commerce when they are in jawazat they refuse to transfer me since I am a nurse. Is there a certain policy like that? Thank you !

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