Well, it wouldn’t have really been a vacation, anyway, just the opportunity to travel. However, the Shura Council [or Shoura Council] is looking into “an alarming problem which surfaced lately, of maids traveling in the company of families.”
This is, no doubt, directly related to the Colorado case of Homaidan Al-Turki who has recently been given a sentence of 27 years to life in prison for sexually assaulting an Indonesian housekeeper and keeping her as a virtual slave. The Saudi Gazette published an article on Friday, September 22, 2003, “Families Traveling with Maids,” which “Particularly [it] concerns those sponsoring families who travel to Western countries and the United States, in particular either on holiday or for educational purposes.” Abdullah Abulsamh writes:
“In those countries, regulations are totally different from those observed in ours. Therefore, it never occurred to a number of sponsors who were planning travel that detaining a maid’s passport is an offense which may lead to imprisonment.
Western countries consider this practice as an infringement upon a worker’s rights and freedom, etc.
A number of friends whose maids have decided to run away (or rather to cease working) have told me that the maids went to the police who then forced sponsors to hand them back their passports, regardless of the issues of sponsorship and liability.
Recently, the matter has become more serious in the United States, as a sponsor detaining a maid’s passport can be tried and imprisoned. The US Consulate is now rejecting applications for visas for maids, unless employment contracts are made in the American style, which means the number of working hours, livings conditions, etc. all indicated beforehand.
It is honestly shameful and sorrowful to watch Saudi families with several maids tagging behind watching the children while their mothers are sitting in cafes. Most of the time, maids remain standing on the sidewalk, at a distance, or sit on the edge of a chair, or run after the noisy, little “devils” who never settle in one place.
Maids can also be seen in the hotels’ hallways with the children while mothers are asleep after staying up at the malls the previous night.
It is the duty of the press to join the Shoura Council in calling for a ban on the travel of maids with families, whether for vacationing or scholastic purposes.
The alternative would be to contact employment agencies to provide local workers or baby sitters who are paid by the hour. This denigration of the Kingdom’s reputation must end.”
If there is a law that specifies “detaining a maid’s passport” could lead to imprisonment, I was unable to find it in a search of the United States government website for international visitors. “Detaining a maid” might, however, be construed as “false imprisonment” if confiscating [“detaining”] one’s passport were interpreted as confinement without legal authority; this is punishable by imprisonment.
Workers in “Western countries,” and specifically, the United States, are afforded a barrage of rights not necessarily bestowed upon employees in other countries, i.e., a minimum wage, maximum working hours, etc. I am not a legal authority but I’d venture to guess “detaining” a passport or person is not allowable and would be considered “an infringement” upon an employee/worker.
A U.S. citizen in Saudi Arabia is subject to that country's laws and regulations. Whether there is any kind of reciprocal relationship in regard to laws and regulations between one country and another is dictated by the host-country. Thus, perhaps it would behoove foreigners traveling with domestic help to ascertain – before journeying – what laws are applicable to specific issues of “sponsorship and liability” should a “maid” decide “to run away (or rather to cease working)” in the host country. That the US Consulate is rejecting applications for visas to be given to maids or other domestic help unless “employment contracts are made in the American style” protects all parties involved, eliminating any guess work as to what is or isn’t allowed.
Although Mr. Abulsamh’s observations may tinge a few raw nerves in his home Country, they will be viewed much more genially by the United States and other Western countries who undoubtedly will agree that it is indeed “shameful and sorrowful to watch Saudi families with several maids tagging behind...”