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Tue 12 Feb 2008 12:41 PM

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Saudi targets illegals to cut national unemployment

Gov't cracks down on illegal Bangladeshis, claims they take jobs away from nationals.

The Saudi government is cracking down on illegal Bangladeshi workers, claiming they taking jobs away from nationals and adding to the kingdom's growing unemployment.

Labour Minister Ghazi Al Gosaibi said at a Shura Council meeting on Sunday the Labour Ministry was working to cut the number of Bangladeshis in the kingdom, and would employ an additional 50 inspectors to hunt down illegal immigrants, Saudi daily Arab News reported on Tuesday.

The initiative follows Al Gosaibi’s criticism of the Saudi private sector for failing to hire more nationals, as foreign work visas issued by the ministry increased by a third in 2007.

Statistics released by the government reveal there are 280,000 unemployed male Saudis and that 90% of them lack the appropriate education even for minor jobs.

Al Gosaibi said most unemployed Saudis hold pre-secondary school qualifications, and were struggling to find employment due to the private sector's policy of hiring cheap foreign labour.

The Labour Ministry also renewed calls for a residency cap on the millions of foreign workers in the Gulf to prevent them from gaining a political voice in the region.

“We do not want the day to come when we are forced to allow the [foreign] workers to be represented in our parliaments or municipal councils,” Al Gosaibi told the economic daily Al-Eqtisadiah.

He said he feared international pressure would in the future force Gulf states to enfranchise expatriate workers.

Foreign workers make up about 13 million of the 35 million populations in the six GCC states. They come mainly from the Asian subcontinent and are relied upon to drive the region's booming economies.

Al Gosaibi did not specify how long expatriate workers should be allowed to work in the GCC.

In October Bahrain's Labour Minister Majeed Al-Alawi proposed a six-year residency cap, fearing expatriate workers were eroding the national character of states in the Gulf.

The cap was discussed at December's GCC summit in Doha, but a final decision on the cap was delayed. A decision is now expected at the next GCC summit in Muscat at the end of this year.

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