Workers still tricked into ‘free visa’ racket

Muscat, August 27 – Fear was writ large on Aslam ul Haq’s face as he is jobless even though he arrived in Oman on an employment visa and residency permit. The reason for his agony is that his sponsor did not provide him with a job as promised by his agent and the Omani Labour Law doesn’t allow him to work under any other employer.
Aslam is one among many hapless blue collar workers who are victims of the so-called ‘free visas’ offered by racketeers, which according to the authorities, do not exist in the Sultanate.
“There is nothing called as ‘free visa’ in the Sultanate. Employees are not allowed to work under an employer other than the one who is permitted to bring him/her into the country,” reiterated an official at the Ministry of Manpower.
Until 2009, workers were free to work anywhere after paying a fee to their sponsors. But now the law bans such free movement of workers.
“Both the employer and employees will be fined and jailed if found violating the law,” the
official warned.
According to Article 114 of Omani Labour Law, a non-Omani employee who works in Oman without a licence from the directorate concerned or works with any employer other than the employer who obtained a licence to bring him to the Sultanate, shall be punished.
An employer who allows any of his workers to work with another employer shall be punished with imprisonment for a term not exceeding one month and a fine not exceeding RO 1,000 for each worker.

Still, unscrupulous agents lure hundreds of Asian workers into the trap of ‘free visa’ jobs to be caught by the authorities and deported to their respective home countries.
At the same time, some workers find the ‘free visas’ advantageous as they allow them to earn more money, even double the amount they would earn with a single employer.
To avoid being caught, the sponsors, in connivance with their workers, open bank accounts on the pretext that a fixed amount in the form of salary is transferred to these accounts.
The ATM cards of the respective accounts are retained by the sponsors so that they can withdraw the amount later.
Hashim Mubarak, who does household shifting work in Ruwi, says he has an account with a local bank but the ATM card is retained by his sponsor. “Every month his sponsor deposits RO 180 into his account. This money is shown as my salary contrary to what I am paying every month as sponsor fee,” he says.
Recently, the Ministry of Manpower, in cooperation with the Central Bank of Oman, made it mandatory for employers to pay workers’ wages through banks.
With a database in the system in regard to the payment of wages, the ministry will get automatic updates of salary transfers from employers to banks.
Hundreds of workers who have been staying in the country have been rounded up in raids conducted by the ministry sleuths at public places, offices, private organisations as well as specific dwellings where large groups of these workers reside.

SAMUEL KUTTY