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Falling economy forces Riyadh to impose new taxes

The Saudi government, faced with growing economic crisis due to low oil prices, war against Yemen, providing Army for protecting Bahrain government from opposition onslaught and branding itself as “leader of Muslim world”, has started tough measures against expat workers in the Kingdom.

From July 1, every expat living with his family in that country will have to pay 100 riyals (approximately ₹1,723) for each member as “dependent fee” every month. The fee amount will gradually increase by 100 riyals each year till 2020, meaning that an employee will then have to shell out 400 Saudi Riyals for each dependent every month. An employee living with wife and two children, in 2020, will have to pay 1200 riyals (Approximately ₹21,000 with present exchange rates) every month as dependent fee.

Saudi Arabia gives family visa to anyone with a salary of 5000 riyals (approximately ₹90,000) and above. The average employee would hardly be able to afford keeping his family in the Kingdom.

There are nearly 41 lakh Indians in Saudi Arabia, the largest expat group in that country. This is also the largest number of Indians living in a single country abroad. Ten lakh of them are from Andhra Pradesh and Telangana.

An Indian expat living in Dammam recently said that some families have made plans to return to Hyderabad as they cannot afford to stay there any longer.

According to migrant rights activist Bheem Reddy Mandha, several families have already returned to India in the past four months. He was quoted saying “the men have become forced bachelors”.

Reports indicate that life in Saudi Arabia is becoming tougher. From July 1, the day when GST will be implemented in India, prices of beverages will increase by 100 percent. Heavy Gunah (sin) tax on tobacco products has also been recently implemented.

In recent months a large number of foreign workers were laid off because of the fall in crude oil prices. Thousands of workers from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Philippines faced hunger due to non-payment of salaries. Indians employed in construction, Information Technology, medical infrastructure and other sectors are believed to be rethinking their plans on staying back in that country.

To a query on the probable impact on Indian expats a senior official in the Ministry of External Affairs said nothing could be said as yet. But it will affect all expats, he added.

Ironically, the hit to Indians comes after Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s April visit to Saudi Arabia where King Salman conferred him country’s highest civilian award – the King Abdulaziz Sash. During the visit Modi also addressed Indian workers and heard their grievances.

The new taxes were announced weeks after US President Donald Trump visited Saudi Arabia signing bilateral deals worth tens of billions of dollars. A Saudi citizen, most probably living outside, criticized “Trillions for Trump and taxes for citizens”.

Saudi activist Essam al-Zamel wrote on his twitter account “after the selective tax, which come into effect in a few days, whoever smokes two packs of cigarettes a day will pay around 1500 riyals a month, equivalent to a car payment”.

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