You have reached the main content

Saudi's VoIP Bans Hits Migrant Workers Hardest

On June 16, 2013

Saudi authorities recently arrested five Indian migrants for selling internet telephone cards, used largely by migrant workers to communicate inexpensively with family members overseas. The Kingdom also recently banned the popular VoIP app Viber, similarly used to avoid pricey Telecom rates. These actions unduly affect low-income migrants who on average make less than 1,000 riyals a month and are unable to regularly afford Telecom prices.

The Kingdom’s restriction of any innovations enabling migrants to communicate inexpensively, and consequently more frequently, compounds the marginalization of low-income migrant workers; Saudi laws which seek to discourage permanent settlement prevent migrants from bringing their families with them unless they make above a certain pay grade. Thus, the cumulative effect of Saudi policies work to separate families, in violation of international norms. Furthermore, migrants - newer arrivals in particular - who feel isolated are more likely to suffer from depression.

Though the VoIP ban appears to be a facially neutral ordinance, its intent and effect is unquestionably discriminatory. While Telecom offers discounted rates to the most popular origin countries, the rates remain an obstacle to family unification. Saudi’s policies represent a gross exercise of power for the benefit of local Telecom operators and unnecessarily distress the nation's migrant community.