Border authorities in Saudi Arabia said they have apprehended more than 20,000 people attempting to leave the Gulf country illegally ahead of a July 3 deadline for foreign workers to correct their visa status.
According to English language newspaper Arab News, those arrested over the two-week period were from nine different countries, and were caught attempting to leave via land and sea borders.
The Border Guard said they were currently investigating whether those arrested were involved in criminal activities.
Much attention has been drawn in recent months to Saudi Arabia’s crackdown on illegal expatriates, which has seen more than 200,000 foreign workers leave the country so far.
As things stand, foreign workers have until July 3 to correct their status or leave the country, although senior business representatives are lobbying for this deadline to be extended to November 4, which marks the start of the next Islamic year.
“There are huge numbers of workers still waiting for their turn to correct the status and the remaining few days will not be enough to handle them,” Abdullah Ridwan, chairman of the contractors committee at Jeddah Chamber of Commerce and Industry, told Arab News.
Violations of visa laws outlined by the Ministry of Interior include forging documents and employers sheltering those who overstay visas. Companies could be hit with fines of up to SR30,000 ($8,000) per illegal worker and be named in the press.
Out of Saudi Arabia’s population of close to 30m, close to 10m are expats, primarily from other Arab countries and South Asia.
The policy is the latest move in an apparent drive to bolster employment among Saudi citizens, where the jobless rate currently stands at more than 12 percent.