Saudi Arabia’s crackdown on foreign workers has thrown millions of lives into turmoil and caused rioting in big cities, but the economy should benefit in the long run as Saudi nationals fill the gaps and cut their dependence on the state.
Nearly a million foreigners have left Saudi Arabia since March, when authorities stopped turning a blind eye to visa irregularities they had tolerated for decades, and tens of thousands more have been detained in raids on offices and marketplaces that began this month.
The Economist on Saudi crackdown on undocumented foreign workers:
All this is meant to lower the kingdom’s unemployment rate, officially 13 percent but believed to be twice as high among the young. Although trimming the foreign workforce will theoretically free up jobs for locals, few Saudis seem likely to seek them, least of all those of the menial kind, which the kingdom’s 19m citizens tend to shun. Still, some economists expect longer-term benefits, as an overall rise in labour costs makes Saudis more attracted to lower-prestige and starting-level jobs, where wages have long been kept down by the abundance of foreign labour.
Abdul Rahman al-Rashed:
The campaign to correct illegal workers’ status has been successful so far, but it has created victims. Some were born and have lived in Saudi Arabia for decades. Many countries across the world give citizenship to people like these. Some of them have lived in Saudi Arabia for 40 years and became Saudis, though not in the legal sense of the word. We do not know how many there are, but regardless I do not think it is a big number compared with that of contemporary violators.
Those who have lived with us and worked tirelessly should, along with their families, at least be granted the right of residency—or simple documentation acknowledging a right they have enjoyed. These residents deserve their status to be corrected because we are confronting an issue that recurs a lot in society as citizenship becomes a fait accompli.
Saudi Arabia announced on Tuesday new rules to protect the rights of foreign domestic workers, most of whom are from South Asia, but stressed they must “respect” Islam and “obey” their employers.
Labour Minister Adel Faqih said the new rules require employers to pay workers “the agreed monthly salary without delay, and give them a day off each week”, in remarks carried by the official SPA news agency.
The next day Saudi Arabia banned Ethiopian workers from entering the country following reports of crimes against children committed by Ethiopian maids, SPA said.
King Abdullah, the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, has extended by four months the amnesty period for undocumented expatriates in the Kingdom to correct their status.
A royal order cited by a Ministry of Interior statement and carried by the Saudi Press Agency on Tuesday said the original three-month grace period, which ends on July 4, will be extended to the end of the current Hijra year 1434, equivalent to Nov. 4, 2013.
Human Rights Watch today called on Saudi Arabia to abolish the sponsorship system and protect the rights of migrant workers.
Somayya Jabarti says the latest government crackdown on illegal foreign workers ignores something very important: The Saudi nationals who sponsored these foreign workers to come to the Kingdom in the first place. “Or is there infinite amnesty for our countrymen and women who have significantly contributed to, if not downright caused, the havoc that conscientious hard-working residents and citizens find themselves in?” she asks.
A video of a Saudi officer beating foreign workers at the Passport Office in Jeddah is raising concerns about the country’s latest crackdown on illegal expats. The video uploaded to YouTube on shows the officer in green uniform as he slaps a dark-skinned man then using his belt to beat others. The officer can be heard shouting: “dog!” and telling women in abayas to leave: “Get out! Yalla! Get out!”
The man who uploaded the clip told Riyadh Bureau that the video was recorded earlier on Sunday by his father who has taken his two housemaids to the crowded Passport Office to get their fingerprints taken. The place was very crowded because many illegal workers wanted to legalize their status, the man said. (See update below)
Saudi Arabia launched a campaign earlier this year to deport illegal workers in the country, part of a push to create more jobs for its citizens. Local media reported that inspectors have raided many places around the country where they suspect illegal workers are employed. However, the campaign was halted in April when King Abdullah ordered a 3 months grace period to rectify their situation or face deportation.
The Kingdom is home to around 10 million foreigners, mainly from south Asia working in construction and service sectors. Many of them have been working in the country for several years. Saudi Gazette said last week that more than 200,000 foreigners staying illegally in the Kingdom were deported over the period from November 2012 until March 2013.
Local media reported of long lines outside the embassies of India, Pakistan, Indonesia and the Philippines as thousands of workers sought documentation from their respective diplomatic missions to legalize their job status and stay.
The Passport Department spokesman told Arab News today that more than 326,000 workers have so far taken advantage of the grace period to legalize their status. He also added that around 124,000 illegal residents had already left the country and 139,000 expatriates had transferred their sponsorship.
The grace period ends July 3.
UPDATE: Interior Minister Prince Mohammed bin Naif has ordered the officer who appeared in the video to be suspended and investigated, an official spokesman said, according to a statement published by the state new agency on Tuesday night. “This behavior cannot be accepted regardless of the justifications,” said the spokesman, who described the officer’s behavior as “regrettable and in violation of the most basic principles of security work.
Abdul Rahman al-Rashed praises the latest series of decisions taken by the Saudi government to deal with illegal foreign workers:
On one hand, the sudden announcement of the decision to suspend deportation and grant foreigners a chance to correct their situation is an act of humane justice as well as a legal necessity. Most of these foreigners came to Saudi Arabia to work, and the country continuously needs their services. Thus, the need for them is certain as their activity has been ongoing despite its illegality.
On another hand, deportation is not an easy solution. In order to find illegal residents and deport them, the government’s current capabilities may not be enough unless the government decides to use the assistance of the entire armed forces. This task will pressure the state’s different apparatuses. We are talking about arresting millions of people, checking their residencies, gathering them and keeping them in camps bigger than the Syrian refugees’ camps!
Hundreds of thousands of Haj and Umrah overstayers who arrived in Saudi Arabia before July 3, 2008, can work as domestic workers or for private companies as part of wide-ranging concessions announced yesterday by the ministries of Labor and Interior.
The concessions are perhaps the most far-reaching changes in the Kingdom’s labor law history that will now include allowing illegal workers to leave the country during the grace period without paying penalties. In addition, Huroob (runaway workers) will be allowed to return to their current sponsors or transfer to another.
The joint statement by MOL and MOI shows that the government is serious about the crackdown on illegal foreign workers in the country, but at the same time offers pathways for those workers and local businesses to deal with the issue during the grace period.
Rashid al-Fawzan writes in support of the crackdown on illegal foreign workers:
We should fight the smuggling of foreign manpower. We should also stop issuing recruitment visas except to Saudi employers who are in dire need. We should also not shy away from defaming Saudis who cover up for foreigners. We should monitor the transfer of funds being made by foreigners to their respective homes and scrutinize the private sector to tighten the grip on the illegal foreigners. The ministries of labor and commerce should protect the country against the dissipation of its economy and should observe remittances of foreigners very closely.
The campaign was halted after King Abdullah ordered authorities two weeks ago to give workers a grace period of three months.