By Daniel Shane
King Abdullah announced three-month grace period for expats to correct their visa status
Saudi Arabia’s Minister of Labour has called on illegal foreign workers in the Gulf state to take advantage of a recently announced amnesty by King Abdullah, it was reported.
Under the three-month grace period, expats working in the kingdom under invalid or forged visas will be given the opportunity to rectify their status without the risk of fines or imprisonment.
“It’s a good opportunity for serious expats to correct their situation as there is no justification for the stay of foreigners who work for firms other than their sponsors or for their own accounts,” Adel Fakieh was quoted as saying.
Fakieh said his ministry would provide all the necessary facilities for expats in the country to correct their status. However, he warned that many workers would not be able to do so as their employers had fallen into the red and yellow categories of the Nitaqat system, as they had not hired enough Saudi nationals.
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.
The announcement comes on the back of a series of country-wide raids that have sought to root out expats working in the oil-rich nation illegally. 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.
Following the introduction of the tax in November, employers with a higher proportion of foreign staff than Saudis must pay SR2,400 each year per overseas worker.
The policy is aimed at encouraging more private companies to hire Saudi nationals, which according to government estimates make up less than one-tenth of all employees in the sector.