Manama: More than 60 international schools in a Saudi city are in crisis after teachers recruited through non-official channels stayed at home to avoid possible labour inspection visits.

Under new procedures applied by the labour ministry, international schools could no longer hire teachers who were not under their sponsorship, putting an end to a practice that had been widely used in several major cities in the Saudi kingdom.

Private schools had often encouraged female professional teachers who had moved to the country with husbands but had no labour contract to join their staff even though they were officially sponsored by their spouses’ employers. Under the sponsorship clause, the spouses were not entitled to work unless they had official contracts.

“With the new procedures, most international schools in Jeddah in western Saudi Arabia will be facing a real crisis,” sources told local Arabic daily Al Eqtisadiya.

“Schools have come to a complete standstill as teachers worried about visits by labour inspection teams opted to stay home and avoid possible legal wrangles.”

However, a government source told the daily that no school had been inspected by the labour team.

“The education ministry has contacted all international schools and no inspection has been reported,” the unidentified source said. “We do not understand this phobia triggered by the new measures adopted by the labour ministry. The head of education in Jeddah is ready to discuss any possible problem that a school could face and refer it to the ministry.

Abdullah Al Dahlan, from the University of Business and Technology in the Red Sea city of Jeddah, said that he expected more than 60 international schools to be shut down if the new measures are applied.

“The best solution is for the interior and labour ministries to allow professionally competent teachers accompanying their spouses to teach in international schools,” he said in remarks published by Al Eqtisadiya on Monday. “From an economic perspective, recruiting the teachers who are already in the country will be more beneficial for the ministry than to hire educators from abroad and pay for their expenses. Such a decision will also ensure the continuation of steady education in the international schools, especially that we are in the second half of the academic year. Applying the new measures now means that more than 40,000 students will be deprived of their education,” he said.

According to Al Dahlan, private education authorities should consider in their decisions regarding international schools is the availability of teachers who use English as the medium of instruction.

“There are not many Saudi teachers, men or women, who can teach in English despite efforts to train them. At least one year is needed to train some Saudi teachers. This is a serious issue that should not be overlooked. I am for offering Saudis employment opportunities ahead of others, but there must be Saudi professionals capable of taking up the jobs on offer,” he said.

Investments in international schools could reach SR400 million, Al Dahlan said.