By P.K. Abdul Ghafour
Expats without legal documents who have been stuck here for years have a golden chance to end their ordeal by benefiting from the amnesty announced yesterday.
Labor Minister Adel Fakeih announced the plan to clean up the labor market. According to it, undocumented foreign workers can leave Saudi Arabia on exit-only visas without being penalized.
Fakeih said this while opening a forum of Saudization committees at regional governorates. He said the forum was aimed at tackling the issue of excess foreign workers and violators of iqama and labor regulations. He defended the SR 2,400 levy, saying it was imposed to protect the nation’s interest.
“No iqamas and work permits will be issued to employees of Red Category firms,” he added.
The minister defended the SR 2,400 levy, saying it was imposed to protect the nation’s interest. “We believe that it would increase the chances of Saudi men and women getting more jobs.”
The Nitaqat system was instrumental in raising the number of Green Category companies from 30 to 60 percent. More than 500,000 Saudis have received jobs following the introduction of the Nitaqat system, he added.
Fakeih said the Interior Ministry backs labor inspectors by deploying police officers to carry out their mission effectively. The forum discussed how to track undocumented workers, punishments to be imposed on them and how to activate regional Saudization committees.
Indian Consul General Faiz Ahmad Kidwai welcomed the move by the Labor Ministry, and hoped illegal workers would make use of the offer.
“There are several Indian workers who face iqama-related problems,” Kidwai said. “Many of them find it difficult to renew their iqamas. Some of them could not even find their sponsors.”
He said the consulate would be ready to issue emergency certificates to those who want to leave the Kingdom.
“We’ll assign more staff members to issue such certificates,” Kidwai said.
Hesham Rowaihy, a management consultant, said the ministry’s move was aimed at balancing the Kingdom’s labor market and creating job opportunities for the increasing number of Saudi graduates.
“I hope the ministry would give such illegal workers some more time to correct their situation or leave the Kingdom on exit visas,” he told Arab News.
There are more than 1.1 million companies in the private sector. “Eleven percent of them do not exist as they were created just to get visas while 31 percent of them are involved in cover-up businesses and do not employ any Saudis,” Rowaihy said quoting a recent study.
He also defended the Labor Ministry’s decision to impose SR 2,400 levy, saying such taxes are imposed worldwide. “Each foreigner cost the Kingdom SR 5,390 every year because of subsidized services they get. This is one of the reasons we want to decrease the number of foreigners,” he said.
Rowaihy stressed the importance of adopting a succession plan by all private companies in order to gradually replace foreigners by Saudis without affecting their business. There are about eight million foreign workers in the Kingdom.
KTA Muneer, an Indian social worker, expressed his hope that the new Labor Ministry move would help some one million illegal workers leave the Kingdom.
According to one report, there are about 50,000 Indian huroob workers who have allegedly run away from their sponsors. The ministry has widened the concept of illegal workers, who include those who do not work under their sponsors or engaged in activities that are not mentioned in their iqamas or work contracts, he added.