The Saudi Shoura Council is discussing a system of regulations to combat illegal migration in the kingdom, which aims to establish a commission in the interior ministry to deport five million foreigners who have illegally settled in the country, Al-Hayat daily reported.
When Muslims bring in Non-Muslim migrants
Immigrants started arriving in Saudi Arabia during the 1970s oil boom. Because Saudi women are not allowed to drive, migrants worked as drivers, loaders, babysitters and manual laborers.
In keeping with Saudi Arabia’s restrictive system of visa sponsorship (Kafala), which ties migrant workers’ legal residency to their employers, the latter enjoy excessive power over their workers, which facilitates abuse.
Migrants brought in by their future employer are not allowed to look for a different job without their master’s permission.
According to a 2010 census, migrant workers accounted for a hefty 30 percent of the kingdom’s population.
Saudi Arabia cannot accommodate everybody
Economists have long warned that mass-scale migration is bad for the country’s economy. Twelve percent of Saudis are unemployed, including 25 percent of young men and 75 percent of women.
According to The Guardian, local employees prefer to hire foreigners. “As a result, entire sectors of the economy are controlled by foreigners,” the newspaper wrote.
Many Saudis blame migrants for the rising crime rate and for attacking the more affluent native Saudis. The migrants are not happy either with Pakistani workers protesting since 2014 over their unpaid wages.
As a result, many migrant workers abandon their employers and join the growing army of “illegals.”
The situation is aggravated by religious tensions between Muslim employers and their migrant workers, many of whom are Christians. With the construction of Christian churches banned, these people are forced to worship in secret.
Wary as they are of Christians, the Saudi authorities are no less worried about radical Islam. In 2016, illegal Pakistani migrant Abdulla Gulzir Khan blew himself up outside the US consulate in Jeddah, and several of his fellow Pakistani migrant workers were arrested on suspicion of links to the Taliban.
Program-2013: a way out of the deadlock
The Saudi Vision 2030 program adopted in 2016 aims to end the country’s overdependence on oil exports and promote a completive domestic production sector to create new jobs and reduce unemployment.
Because the growing unemployment among native Saudis also stems from the presence of millions of low-paid migrant workers, the deportations which have been going on since 2013 are seen by Riyadh as part of its program of economic and social recovery.
Now Makkah Province is “perfectly ready” for the “A Nation Without Illegal Expatriates” national campaign, Mohamed Hussain, spokesman of the Jeddah Passport Department, told Arab News.
Starting Wednesday, undocumented workers in Jeddah and Makkah can go to Al-Shumaisi’s branch of the Passport Department, located on the Jeddah-Makkah expressway, to finalize their departure procedures.
“A special section has been designated for it at the General Services Center in Al-Shumaisi to cover Makkah and Jeddah,” Hussain said.
Al-Shumaisi is one of many centers that will implement the 90-day campaign, which will include all provinces.
The initiative was granted by the Interior Ministry for undocumented workers to correct their status and leave the country without penalties.
Overstayers following the 90-day grace period will risk paying fines. “Violators who don’t initiate correcting their status and get detained will be subject to enforcing the rules and regulations of the labor law and residency system,” Lt. Col. Talal Al-Shalhoub, spokesman of the General Directorate of Passports (GDP), told Arab News.
Violating the residency system entails deportation, a prison sentence and fines. The fine can range between SR15,000 ($4,000) and SR100,000, Gen. Sulaiman Al-Yahya, director general of the Passport Department, told the Saudi state-run news channel Al-Ekhbariya.
Al-Yahya urged violators to make use of the amnesty that exempts them from fines and the consequences associated with the deportee fingerprint system, an opportunity “that may not come again,” he said.
Those who have overstayed their visas for Haj, Umrah, visit or transit should go directly to a border point with a valid passport and confirmed travel tickets.
If an “absent from work (escape or huroob)” notice has been issued, the violator will need to finalize the procedures in the local Expats Affairs Administration first.
Employers of holders of expired “resident identity” (iqama) who did not renew them before the announcement date of the campaign (March 19) shall issue a “final exit” visa online after paying all due fees and fines. Illegal workers should then leave the country.
Pilgrims who entered the country illegally should refer to the local Expat Affairs Administration to obtain a “final exit” visa before going to the designated passport center with their valid passport.
Illegal workers with valid iqama IDs, but who work for different employers or are self-employed and have an “absent from work (escape)” notice, should refer to the local Labor Disputes Committee to obtain a “proof of status” directed to the GDP.
They should then refer to the local Expats Affairs Administration to obtain a “final exit” visa with their passport and iqama ID before leaving the Kingdom.
Workers for an employer in the Red Zone, whose company has more non-Saudi employees than Saudi, should refer to the Labor Ministry to obtain a temporary work permit before going to the local Passport Department with their passport and iqama ID to get a “final exit” visa and leave the country.
According to the campaign, workers can return to the Kingdom on condition they pursue legal methods to gain entry.
Jeddah-based Pakistani Consul General Shehryar Akbar Khan and Indian Consul General Mohammed Noor Rahman Sheikh both urged their nationals to take advantage of the scheme in two separate press statements sent to Arab News.
The Pakistani Consulate said it has made arrangements to assist “Pakistani community members who desire to avail the amnesty scheme announced by the Saudi government.”
The Indian Consulate said it would provide information to Indian expats, and assured “the full cooperation of the consulate in facilitating all Indian nationals who want to go back to their mother land using this opportunity.”
A similar campaign took place in 2013 to legalize the status of undocumented workers. A 90-day amnesty was announced in April 2013 before the late King Abdullah extended the grace period to November 2013.
Interior Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Mansour Al-Turki said more than 2.5 million violators left the country under that campaign.