US Woman Weds a Saudi, Is Now in Legal Limbo

New York Times reports on Bethany Vierra, who can't leave with her daughter after divorce
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 5, 2019 1:59 PM CST
US Woman Caught in Saudi Red Tape Nightmare
A woman drives her car in Riyadh minutes after Saudi Arabia's ban on women drivers was lifted on June 24, 2018.   (AP Photo/Nariman El-Mofty)

Bethany Vierra was born in the US—her home until she moved from Washington state to Saudi Arabia in 2011 to teach at a women's university. She fell in love, got married, had a daughter, and started a company, but now, "she is completely stuck," her cousin tells the New York Times. Nicole Carroll explains 31-year-old Vierra is unable to leave the country, use her bank account, or seek legal help under Saudi Arabia's guardianship system, which gives men control over women, including foreign women who marry Saudis, in the same way that American parents have authority over children. As Vierra learned, there's no escape with divorce. Vierra's ex-husband remains her guardian and—until last month—was also the sponsor of her residency. Carroll says he let the residency expire, meaning Vierra is now in the country illegally.

She also can't leave. Without a valid residency, Vierra is blocked from traveling, accessing her bank account to pay employees, and from reaching out to police for help, per the Times. Carroll says only the ex-husband can get the paperwork needed for Vierra to file for residency as the parent of a Saudi citizen, and he's refused. But even if Vierra could find a way back to the US, her daughter would need her father's permission to leave Saudi Arabia and it seems unlikely she would get it. Carroll says the ex-husband—whose name is being withheld for fear of backlash—refused to let Vierra and 4-year-old Zaina travel to visit family for Christmas. "She is out of options," says Carroll. Saudi Arabia is "trying to put an image out there that they are giving more rights to women, but if they really want to do that, they need to get rid of guardianship." (Read the full story.)

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