ISLAMABAD, Oct 22: Saudi Arabia has slapped a ban on visas for illiterate workers with immediate effect.

“New rules and regulations have been introduced for the import of manpower, making it mandatory for the labour force to be able to read and write in Urdu,” Raoof Hasan, a spokesman for the Saudi embassy told Dawn on Wednesday.

The embassy issues up to 1,200 work visas daily. Sources said about 75 per cent of them were unable to read or write.

The Saudi government has justified the move in view of the serious difficulties it faced in dealing with illiterate workforce.

The embassy has asked recruitment agencies to review pending applications in light of the new rules before submitting them for issuance of visas.

“All documents will be examined minutely and appropriate tests will be conducted, if needed, to determine the suitability of applicants in light of the changed rules,” Mr Hasan said.

The step will reduce export of workforce to the kingdom by two thirds, resulting in further increase in unemployment in Pakistan.

Economic experts termed the decision a major blow for the ‘poorest of the poor’, who looked towards Saudi Arabia as an earning opportunity.

The move will adversely affect government plans of doubling workers’ remittances over the next two years by stepping up manpower export.

The remittances from Saudi Arabia during the last fiscal year totalled $1.251 billion.

Pakistani workers form the bulk of cheap labour being used to run Saudi Arabia’s industry and business.

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