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Foreign illegal laborers wait in a queue at the Saudi immigration offices at al-Isha quarter in al-Khazan district west of Riyadh, on June 30, 2013.—AFP Photo
Foreign illegal laborers wait in a queue at the Saudi immigration offices at al-Isha quarter in al-Khazan district west of Riyadh, on June 30, 2013.—AFP Photo

KHOBAR: Saudi Arabia has given foreign workers another four months to obtain legal status in the country a day before a previous three-month amnesty expired, bringing respite to hundreds of thousands of expatriates who fear deportation.

The decision is expected to benefit 30,000 Pakistanis in Saudi Arabia.

Foreigners who do a different job to the one listed on their residence permit will now have until the end of the Islamic year on Nov 3 to resolve their status, Saudi official media reported on Tuesday citing an Interior Ministry statement.

Expatriates account for around a third of the population in the world’s top oil exporter and for decades the authorities have turned a blind eye to visa irregularities to give Saudi companies a ready stream of cheap imported labour.

That has led to the emergence of a labour black market, which the government says makes it harder for Saudis to get jobs in a country with an official 12 per cent unemployment rate, and which economists say fosters inefficiencies.

Remittances from workers in Saudi Arabia are an important source of revenue in Yemen, Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, the Philippines and Yemen.

Earlier this year the kingdom began to crack down on the many foreign workers who have violated their visa terms with surprise inspections on streets and in company offices. Tens of thousands of people were deported or decided to leave the country under this pressure, raising concern about possible damage to the economy if deportations continued.

The government then announced an amnesty during which workers would be forgiven any fees or fines for visa violations such as overstaying or switching jobs, but bureaucratic delays mean many have still not regularised their status.

“They might have deported me. This is the situation for so many of us. I was very worried. We didn’t know what would happen on Wednesday (when the deadline expired),” said a Pakistani working as a receptionist for a company in Riyadh.


Behind the crackdown is a government effort to enforce sweeping labour reforms it introduced last year that impose quotas for Saudi and foreign employees and reserve some jobs exclusively for locals. Companies try to get around localisation quotas by hiring workers who are officially sponsored by another company.

However, the government is trying to close that loophole by imposing the same quotas on manpower companies.

Workers are also in violation if they work in a different professional field to the one they are listed under, a widespread problem in a country where many expatriates are officially listed as labourers but work as anything from drivers to administrators. “Maybe 30-35 per cent of our staff is correctly registered. I have 10 people under the sponsorship of our company, of whom six are Saudis. So technically we’ve met our quota. But there are 12 others who are employed from outside,” said an office manager in Riyadh.

“If they hadn’t extended I would have had to ask many of our staff to work from home from tomorrow or to stop working temporarily until we could resolve the problem,” he added.

Like the receptionist, he did not want to name the company for fear of government inspections.

The sudden announcement of a three-month amnesty in April led to massive queues outside government offices and the consulates of labour exporting countries as offices were flooded with hundreds of thousands of requests.

Many reported queuing for days on end in temperatures of higher than 40 degrees Celsius. Waiting workers rioted outside the Indonesian embassy last month, leaving a woman dead and clashing with police.

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Comments (5) Closed

bkt Jul 02, 2013 05:21pm

This would not be a problem if Saudi employers paid their workers on time as well as paying their full salaries. Because salaries for small businesses are frequently paid late, if at all and run into the arrears, workers end up doing other jobs just to survive. The reason the Saudis can't find jobs, is as a recent survey in Saudi showed, because more than than two thirds of those unemployed Saudis had never bothered to apply for a job. These low paid foreigners being kicked out will not solve the problem of Saudi unemployment.

Tanveer Jul 02, 2013 06:39pm

Will they implement the rule in the construction and Road cleaning baladiya too,One Saudi for every 10 Pakistani and Bangladeshi labourors

Khan Jul 02, 2013 09:09pm

Yeah the only job they are good at is terrorism, human rights violations, treating women badly, and bringing shame to Islam!

Em Moosa Jul 02, 2013 10:13pm

Every country prefers its nationals for the jobs so as Saudis. Thousands of Saudis are being graduated from the universities and technical colleges every year. They want jobs. Govt. of Saudi is in dare trouble to accommodate them. On the other hand there are lot of illegals from different countries working at lowest salaries and living since years over there. Now the govt. want to get rid of them. It is not the problem of Saudi govt. that the countries of those illegal residents have not done any thing good to their industries that those people could be worked and not to look outside world for the jobs. One day they have to come back. This amnesty will not work long. The demand to send them back will soon be again. What the effected governments are doing for them? In Pakistan, we see there is only jamhoori leaders making money and doing nothing for the benefit of the people either they are living in the country or sent out side as a commodity.

Krish Chennai Jul 02, 2013 10:53pm

This "nitaqat" law, as it is popularly termed by the press, may have negative repercussions for the Saudi government, if too strictly enforced. While no doubt protectionism ( for goods, manufacturing and jobs ) exists in every nation, including the greatest and most powerful of democracies, the arbitrary replacement of labour, whether white or blue collar, brought in largely from the sub-continent, would be one of the factors that lead to the relook at the form of governance that it practices towards its own peoples, over the next few years. Care, attention, and understanding, is what is called for, from those in authority.