The new visa rule makes it easier for an expatriate to bring his family here, but there are concerns ranging from the rising cost of living to a fear of job loss. Alvin Thomas shares with the expats the delights and the doubts.
October 3, 2017, marked a very important day in the life of Christin Jacob. He has just learnt that he could finally do something that had been on his mind for long; bring his wife and two children to Oman for the very first time – and have them stay at home in Al Khuwair for as long as he held his job.
The 35-year-old car salesman has been living in the Sultanate alone for the last four years, and the strains of his work life is usually shared with his wife who is residing in her hometown in India over WhatsApp.
The only time the family meets is when Christin is granted his annual leave.
He takes home RO520 and was ineligible to get a family joining visa, but now things have changed ‘for the better’.
Christin – and several others – who are earning RO300 and above can now bring their families here and revive their life together.
This comes following a new decision by the Royal Oman Police (ROP) that revised the minimum salary required for bringing a family to Oman to RO300.
“When a couple of my colleagues called me up to say that the law had been changed, I didn’t believe them. I simply sat down on my chair and began daydreaming about what I would do when they are here,” says the salesman.
“Not having your family here is like missing an arm or a leg. I used to chat with my wife over WhatsApp after work and throughout the night; it’s something we had accepted and got used to. But now she can come here,” he smiles, not being able to hold back his excitement.
This is also the case with Dilhara, a Sri Lankan expatriate engineer working in Oman. The 24-year-old tied the knot only months ago but was unable to apply for a family visa for his wife as his salary was only RO450.
The youngster has already applied for the family visa through his company and is expecting to see his wife in the coming weeks.
Of course, we must note that Dilhara and Christin are all salaried employees who have received housing as part of their package from the company. And this is in line with the ROP regulations related to the new change.
“Regulations on family residency to foreign employees. The expat that wants to bring his family, must have an income of no less than RO300 per month,” read a tweet by the ROP.
“The expat’s Ministry of Manpower information form will be consulted in addition to a bank statement showing the expat’s salary deposit for at least the past three months. The expat must have a residence rented in his/her (sic.) name or the name of the employer, the contract will be consulted by the appropriate authority for confirmation,” it added.
But what is the reason for the sudden move?
According to Melissa Joan, an economist based in Oman, this is to keep the remittance within
“I personally think this is a smart move. It’s something that should have happened three or four years ago but better late than never.
“This means that the people will spend their money within Oman. This should aid in strengthening our economy and also broaden the prospects of our growth annually.
“Until now, men and women working here had been sending their hard-earned money back to their hometowns in the Philippines, India, Pakistan, etc. But with their families here, I think they would have to increase their local spending, thereby reducing the flux of remittances outside Oman,” she tells us.
This is reflected in an online statement released by the Oman Chamber of Commerce and Industry (OCCI): “The OCCI expresses its deepest thanks to the Royal Oman Police for their contribution to the amendment of the salary clause in the conditions for the issuance of a family visa for expats from RO600 to RO300, as this decision will lead to the growth of the real estate, tourism, and commercial sector, and increase the rate of power and the circulation of money within the Sultanate, in addition to attracting foreign capital.”
However, Joan feels that results will still take time.
“Someone with a salary of RO300 will find it hard to sustain themselves and their families in this current market. It would definitely work in cases where the company is providing the employee with free accommodation.”
Based on a survey conducted by international website numbeo.com, the average rent for a one-bedroom house within the Muscat city and outside the city is RO232.8 and RO162.5, respectively.
“Let’s wait to see how it will all work out,” she says.
Even though the rule has been amended, several expats are saying it is not the right time to bring their families.
Mahesh*, a mechanical engineer with a petroleum firm in Oman, says he sent back his family after he felt his job was “unstable”.
“I could lose my job anytime,” he tells us.
“Why uproot everyone (his three children, wife and aged mother) and send them back abruptly if I were to lose my job,” he asks.
“I sent them back 14 months ago and I’m also sending all my savings back home. Being an NRI (non-resident Indian: an expat working or residing outside India) has its perks. I can send my savings to India and deposit it as with a fixed interest.
“This way, I can ensure I am looking after the future of my family.”
The engineer takes home RO1,350 monthly and is also allotted a house.
But, recent figures revealed by regional (UAE) newspaper, Gulf News, points out that the Central Bank of Oman (CBO) showed a decline of 6.5 per cent in expat remittances in 2016, compared to that of 2015: RO4.2 billion was remitted overseas in 2015, whereas the amount fell to RO3.95 billion in 2016.
“Some of us do not care whether we’re earning RO100 or RO1,000. We just want to be with our families,” says Justin, a Filipino expat working as a male-nurse.
“We are willing to share the struggle no matter what. It’s a promise I made to my wife. So, the moment I get the visa for her I will bring her here. It doesn’t matter if she has a job or not; we should be happy and together.
“That’s why it’s called a family, right?”