ISLAMABAD: Almost 800,000 Pakistanis have been legalised by Saudi Arabia ahead of a Nov 4 deadline for expatriates to ensure their visas are in order or face possible deportation.
Muhammad Naeem Khan, Pakistan’s Ambassador to the country, pointed out in an interview with Arab News that a total of 729,932 Pakistani workers have so far benefited from the amnesty deadline.
Khan said more than 396,152 nationals have already changed their sponsorships and 333,780 workers their professions to legalise their status in the Kingdom.
“Our assessment is that more than 800,000 people have corrected their status, if we include those who came to Saudi Arabia on Umrah and Hajj visas and other domestic workers like drivers, housemaids, watchman and agricultural workers,” he said.
“It would be helpful for those remaining Pakistanis who have not yet been able to regularise their status if special concession and grace period is announced by the Saudi authorities,” he added.
“I would like to extend my appreciation to the Saudi Ministries of Interior, Foreign Affairs and Labour as well as the Immigration Department for their cooperation and support especially to the Pakistani community in the Kingdom,” Naeem Khan said. “It is a huge success for us to achieve the goal to legalise our nationals.”
Addressing the issue of nationals who will not be able to correct their statuses, the ambassador said: “We are going to start a new registration campaign after the amnesty deadline in which we will facilitate procedures for those who are not covered by the existing amnesty period.”
Elaborating on this, he said: “The embassy has created 80 different focal points all over the Kingdom to help illegal workers register with the embassy.”
Khan emphasised the fact that all undocumented workers must legalise their status before the Nov 4 deadline. He urged Pakistani workers who did find jobs to coordinate with the embassy and consulate general in Jeddah for help.
With the new concessions in the Saudi labour laws, he explained, “workers who arrived in the Kingdom after April 6 as freelancers or those who are declared as runaway workers are not included in the amnesty. They should not hesitate to register with the embassy, focal points and the consulate general in Jeddah.”
“Umrah and Haj overstayers who possess no documentation to claim that they entered the Kingdom legally and are not even fingerprinted, should immediately contact us. We will try to help them and find a way to legalize them.”
The Ministry of Labour earlier stressed that after the expiry of the amnesty deadline, penalties will be imposed on violators and their employers.
The recruiters of illegal workers could face jail up to two years and fines of up to SR100,000.
About a third of Saudi Arabia’s 27 million population comprises of foreign workers.
The kingdom has turned a blind eye to minor violations of its strict labour regulations for decades, allowing an influx of cheap labour used both by companies and as domestic workers.
Yemen, Egypt, Lebanon, Ethiopia, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Indonesia and the Philippines all have large numbers of citizens working in the country and all rely heavily on their remittances.
As part of a series of reforms over the last two years, Saudi Arabia has tried to free up jobs for its own citizens, 12 per cent of whom are unemployed, according to official data.