- Title: SAUDI ARABIA: Foreign workers rush to quit Saudi Arabia after fines amnesty
- Date: 28th May 2013
- Summary: RIYADH, SAUDI ARABIA (MAY 28, 2013) (REUTERS) VARIOUS OF ILLEGAL FOREIGN LABOURERS QUEUING FOR EXIT VISA IN FRONT OF THE IMMIGRATION OFFICE RIYADH, SAUDI ARABIA (MAY 27, 2013) (REUTERS) VARIOUS OF FOREIGN LABOURERS WAITING TO ENTER IMMIGRATION OFFICE / COVERING THEIR HEADS FROM HEAT OF THE SUN CLOSE OF LABOURERS WAITING LABOURERS WAITING RIYADH, SAUDI ARABIA (MAY 28, 2013) (REUTERS) CLOSE OF TRAVEL DOCUMENTS FOR NEPALI LABOURER (SOUNSBITE) (English) NEPALI LABOURER SEEKING EXIT VISA TO NEPAL, DINESH KUMAR SAH, SAYING: "My company gives me only 600 [riyals per month, 150 $]. I am coming here, there agents speaks: you are salesman here, but here coming, he give work daily, daily [labouring] work, no need daily work - I speak my company in Nepal, I want to go back Nepal but company speak no, I don't send Nepal." RIYADH, SAUDI ARABIA (MAY 27, 2013) (REUTERS) LABOURERS WAITING IN THE SUN TO GET EXIT VISAS RIYADH, SAUDI ARABIA (MAY 28, 2013) (REUTERS) SAUDI PRIVATE SERVICES EMPLOYEES PROCESSING PAPERWORK FOR LABOURERS AND SAUDI EMPLOYERS NEAR THE MINISTRY OF LABOUR HEADQUARTERS LABOURER ASKING SERVICES OFFICE MANAGER FOR LEGAL ADVICE ON HIS SITUATION (SOUNDBITE) (Arabic) LABOURER FROM YEMEN, THIYAD YAHYA THIYAD, SAYING: "I asked him [guardian] for an exit visa, a pay rise, and a holiday - he refused. He told me to go away, he reported me to the authorities, that I was escaping from the company. I went to Jeddah and then to Yemen but now I came back to Riyadh to work for a new guardian and new residency." MORE OF LABOURERS AT SERVICES DESKS (SOUNDBITE) (Arabic) OWNER OF PRIVATE SERVICES OFFICE, AL-ONIAZI, SAYING: "There are humanitarian cases. There are those who are offenders in residency in the country for 10, 15 years, those who came for Hajj and Omrah, those who had some problem with their guardian and the guardian reported to the authorities that they are escaping from work; malicious complaints; and some were involved in illegal issues and ran away. But thank God, this new law is excellent, the labourers now have fixed their situation, and those who are asking for exit visas can have them without finger printing procedures or any problems and come back again with new visas to work without any problem." VARIOUS OF LABOURERS AT PRIVATE SERVICES OFFICE LABOURERS SIGNING PAPER AT SERVICES OFFICE
- Embargoed: 12th June 2013 13:00
- Location: Saudi Arabia
- Country: Saudi Arabia
- Topics: Crime / Law Enforcement,Economy,Employment
- Reuters ID: LVAB71U4A5KL7J0804ASGWCQ64ZB
- Story Text: Tens of thousands of foreign workers try to leave Saudi Arabia after the government said they would not have to pay any fees or fines for visa violations such as overstaying or switching jobs.
Tens of thousands of foreign workers are trying to leave Saudi Arabia after the government of the world's No. 1 oil exporter said they would be forgiven any fees or fines for visa violations such as overstaying or switching jobs.
Riyadh is pursuing sweeping labour reform that would tackle domestic unemployment by pushing firms to hire Saudi nationals - who now hold only about one in 10 private sector jobs - instead of some of its roughly 9 million foreign residents.
The disproportion of foreigners in jobs arises, some firms say, from the fact Saudis demand higher wages and are harder to sack than expatriates. Other firms, particularly those in fields involving manual labour, say they cannot attract Saudi workers.
Earlier this year the kingdom began to crack down on the many foreign workers who violated their visa terms with surprise inspections on streets and in company offices, followed in some cases by the deportation of offenders.
Saudi Arabia, whose total population is 28 million, has long turned a blind eye to the impact of its rigid foreign worker laws, resulting in a huge black market for expatriate labour.
On Tuesday (May 28), thousands queued in blazing sunshine outside the main passport office in Riyadh to secure exit visas, with many people saying they had waited in line for more than 24 hours.
Nepali labourer Dinesh Kumar Sar says he just wants to go back home as his salary is insufficient, but his paperwork is incorrect.
"My company gives me only 600 (riyals per month (150$) ) I am coming here, there agents speaks: you are salesman here, but here coming, he give work daily, daily (labouring) work, no need daily work - I speak my company in Nepal, I want to go back Nepal but company speak no, I dont send Nepal," said 25-year-old Kumar Sar.
Local media quoted the spokesman for the Saudi passport office as saying 124,000 people had left the country since early April when the government announced a three-month grace period for illegal workers to rectify their status.
The economic impact of such a foreign exodus is not yet clear. Arab News said on Tuesday that roadworks in Riyadh had been delayed because of a foreign worker shortage.
However, economists in the kingdom have previously said Saudi companies tend to overemploy due to the low cost of foreign labour.
The kingdom has large numbers of workers from India, Pakistan, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, the Philippines, Indonesia, Yemen, Ethiopia and other Arab states, many of which benefit from high levels of remittances.
Saudi law says expatriates must work for a designated Saudi sponsor in the professional field registered on their residency permit, or iqama.
Expatriates brought in to work for Saudi companies often complain they are paid much less than was promised or are denied exit visas by sponsors who hold their passports. Many subsequently break the law to find work with a better employer.
"There are humanitarian cases. There are those who are offenders in residency in the country for 10, 15 years, those who came for Hajj and Omrah, those who had some problem with their guardian and the guardian reported to the authorities that they are escaping from work; malicious complaints; and some were involved in illegal issues and ran away. But thank God, this new law is excellent, the labourers now have fixed their situation, and those who are asking for exit visas can have them without finger printing procedures or any problems and come back again with new visas to work without any problem," said al-Oniazi, the owner of a private services office that offers help with administrative tasks where they are needed.
Another common illegal practice is the so-called "free visa" system, under which a sponsor allows workers to find alternative employment but charges them a commission to renew their residence permit or seek an exit visa.
The Labour Ministry started cracking down on such practices after imposing rules last year to force companies to employ more Saudis, with fines and hiring restrictions imposed on firms that do not meet localisation quotas.
Local newspapers on Monday quoted the labour minister as saying the new rules had localised 600,000 jobs so far.
In early April King Abdullah announced a three-month grace period for workers to rectify their residence status by changing their sponsor or profession without facing the usual penalties.
That period will end on July 3, when the Labour Ministry has said it will renew the crackdown.
However, many have been unable to switch their sponsor to their current employer or to change their residence papers to show their current profession because doing so would put their company in breach of localisation rules.
Others have reported that their sponsor demanded large sums of money to transfer sponsorship.
Many expatriates have just decided to return home. Officials have said if they leave within the grace period, they will be allowed to apply for another visa to work in the kingdom.
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