Expat muezzins in red-tape trap


EXPATRIATES working at mosques find themselves trapped in Bahrain because no one is paying for their visas, it has emerged.

They tend to stay in the country after their visas are expired because they fear losing their jobs if they return to their countries for new ones to be issued.

However, the Sunni Waqf (Endowment) Directorate at the Justice and Islamic Affairs Ministry says it now plans to allocate a budget to cover the expenses of residence permits and return visas of expatriates.

More than 400 expatriate employees are working as muezzins, mosque cleaners and some as imams under the waqf, which does not pay for their visas

The expatriates are employed on their request to work in the mosques they frequently visit.

If they pass the requirements, the waqf obtains an approval from their sponsors and the visas are then transferred.

Before the Labour Market Regulatory Authority (LMRA) was established, all government departments covered residence permits and return visas for their expatriate workers free of charge, said waqf administrative affairs chief Ahmed Jassim.

“This has now changed and the waqf, being a government department, has to pay for its expatriate workers’ visas and residence permits for which we don’t have a budget.”

For each expatriate worker, the waqf has to pay BD440, added Mr Jassim.

“We don’t have this kind of money, so we are requesting the authorities concerned to allocate a budget for it.”

According to law, all expatriate workers have to have their information registered at the General Directorate of Nationality, Residence and Passports (GDNPR).

A visa and a residence permit are acquired through the LMRA, where the fees are paid.

“We have some workers who are not registered with the GDNPR or the LMRA, so we need to register them,” said Mr Jassim.

“However, some have expired residence permits dated a year ago and need to return to their countries and then their sponsors need to acquire visas for them to come back.

“This is causing us problems as some employees are afraid to return home, thinking they might not be able to come back.

“Bahrain is to these workers a place to earn a living for their families. Once they return home, they cannot earn enough to save so they refuse to go home.

“We hope for a quick response and aid to pay for the work permits and visas.”

A waqf employee said since the new rules for the payment of visas and residence permits were introduced, the situation had been difficult for muezzins, mosque cleaners and some imams.

“It was a normal procedure of the GDNPR to be responsible for all residence permits and visas for expatriate employees in government departments. But now they charge for it,” said S Ahmed.

“Since the charges were introduced, the waqf has stopped renewing residence permits for its expatriate staff and as a result so many don’t have one and can’t travel to their countries to attend important family occasions.

“In one case I know about, a muezzin returned to Bahrain after getting married back home, but couldn’t go back for three years because he feared he would lose his job.

“The situation has caused him much distress.

“I hope the Justice and Islamic Affairs and the Interior ministries solve this problem for the poor expatriate staff so that they can live in Bahrain legally and can leave when they are entitled to do so.” basma@gdn.com.bh.