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The bottlenecks to becoming a freelancer in Jordan

Ruba Saqr (Photo: Jordan News)
Ruba Saqr (Photo: Jordan News)


The art of making laws and regulations readable, easily applicable, and unwaveringly aligned with the best interests of its beneficiaries (who are none other than the citizens of this country), seems to be completely lost on the authors behind Jordan’s relatively-new guidelines for “home-based businesses” (HBBs).اضافة اعلان

As a freelancer combing through online literature related to the country’s 2017 “Home-Based Business Regulations,” one is greeted with bottleneck after bottleneck in what feels like a deliberate attempt at making “freelancing” in this country as convoluted and difficult to achieve as possible.

These USAID-backed regulations, available on the website “Startup Guide Jordan,” with background offered on Jordanlens.org, are communicated through a so-called “step-by-step” guide. From what I have seen, the regulations, and their communication tools, seem to be unnecessarily complicated, lacking the nuance of differentiating between creative freelancing and other types of home-based businesses. They also expose an obsession with monitoring and quantifying informal businesses rather than “supporting” them. Startupguidejo.com’s downloadable e-booklet alone is a case study in ambiguity and convolution.

In what serves as ironic foreshadowing, the website does not allow users to download the PDF unless they input their full name and phone number as an invasive prerequisite, one of many bottlenecks to come. This offers a window into the mentality behind this effort, as unnecessary roadblocks are placed in the way of getting public information, which is supposed to be available to all citizens, unconditionally. Never mind the fact the same guide is obtainable via direct download from the Greater Amman Municipality’s (GAM) website (check out the left side-bar)!

To be clear, the part I am critiquing here is pertinent to “freelancers,” which I believe are a breed of self-employed individuals that should fall under a specific set of rules, tailored for them, while also offering them solutions to problems particular to them. However, the HBB regulations not only complicate the freelancers’ lives, but also make freelancing an almost impossible endeavor to undertake in Jordan. On this note, I have written two previous articles about the challenges facing freelancers that readers can find on JordanNews.jo.
Let me start with an interesting example: There is this inexplicable stipulation that requires freelancers (along with the other home-based business categories like food preparation and house repair services) to report their new residence to their municipality in case they move homes. In other words, once you get entangled with the home-based business regulations by licensing yourself as an “individual business,” your license is tied to your place of residence, not to you as a freelancer.

Although in practical terms you could do your freelancing from a coffee shop with an internet connection or from under a tree for that matter, these rules need you to display your license in a “visible place” in your home in case of a “site visit”! Has anyone ever heard of a freelancer, anywhere in the world, having to inform their local government of their whereabouts so as to receive a freelancing license? Highly doubtful.

A site visit makes sense for a home business that makes chocolate or meat pies and requires periodic health-code visits by health inspectors. But for freelancing (which often involves a computer, some software, creative or intellectual skills, and deliverables that are often sent via email or a file-sharing website), no site visit should be required. Oddly enough, a fellow freelancer recently told me he has received not one, but three to four site visits already! To do what? See if the laptop is sitting properly on the table?

Why would the home of a graphic designer, illustrator, writer, copywriter, researcher, or proofreader, need to be inspected? For what exactly? What code are we supposed to live up to? My worktable is in my bedroom; am I supposed to let a stranger in just to declare me eligible for a home-based license? The absurdity of the notion (i.e. checking for “compliance” to some unspecified standard) is beyond surreal!

In light of this and to add to one’s mounting frustration, there appears to be no mechanism to allow us, the affected, to directly dispute inaccuracies and problems with the regulations, as one would expect from institutions concerned with good governance. There is, however, an invitation in the booklet to send in our suggestions for new “types” of HBBs.

Speaking of which, we now arrive at another problem that reaffirms the notion these rules are out of touch with the reality of freelancing; whoever came up with the types of jobs, under the “intellectual” category, seems to have no idea that in real life a “copywriter” can also be a “proof-reader.” A “graphic designer” can most certainly “design ads” and provide the visual side of “ad campaigns.” An “illustrator” can be a “fine artist,” too.

These are not wild assumptions, in real life, freelancers tend to wear several hats at once, and there are a trillion examples of such multi-faceted professional combinations across Jordan and the globe!

Yet, in these regulations, these job types are listed as standalone specializations, each with its own proposed fees, licence type, and other bureaucratic requirements. A friend recently told me he had to declare one specialization, although his freelancing activities involved several other types, another supporting evidence these rules are rooted in theory and not in practicality.

But it is never too late. Although these regulations were created a couple of years before the pandemic, they are not set in stone. It is high time we gave them a serious re-think, especially that these trying times have shown us we need to do better than just mediocre.

As we strive for excellence, we do have an example to follow. Jordan’s leadership has categorically refused the concept of “herd immunity” in its approach to pandemic control, because as a matter of spiritual principle, every soul in our beloved homeland matters. Why then do we find it easy to adopt a “herd mentality” when it comes to laws and regulations that leave so many of us behind?

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