A India-Saudi Arabia joint working group has been formed that will work toward minimising the fallout of the Kingdom’s Nitaqat policy on Indians. Headed by Saudi Arabia’s Deputy Minister for Labour Affairs Ahamed Al Humaidan and Deputy Chief of Mission at the Indian Embassy Sibi George, the group would hunt for solutions such as providing alternative jobs within Saudi Arabia and making the exit smooth for those who may have to leave the country.

A high-level delegation led by Minister for Overseas Indian Affairs Vayalar Ravi has met Saudi authorities to discuss the mechanisms. The deliberations between Mr. Ravi, who was accompanied by Minister of State for External Affairs E. Ahamed and the Prime Minister’s adviser, T.K.A. Nair — first with Saudi Labour Minister Adel bin Mohammad Fakeih and then with Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal — resulted in the formation of the joint group.

Indian workers have been hit by the policy, which reserves a certain percentage of the workforce in commercial establishments for Saudi nationals.

The group will hold its first meeting in Riyadh on May 1.

The talks with the Saudi Labour Minister, which lasted nearly three hours, also resulted in the formation of a Joint Working Group on labour. It will deliberate on framing a Memorandum of Understanding, which is to be a comprehensive document guiding all aspects of India-Saudi labour relations. The JWG will hold its first meeting in New Delhi next month.

Sunday’s talks yielded a joint decision that the process of recruiting workers be made more transparent, guided by a model mechanism that could also be adopted by other countries.

Analysts point out that the Indian side is not contesting Riyadh’s decision to open up several more employment avenues for its nationals under the Nitaqat system, but is looking at maximizing the welfare of Indian citizens within these parameters. The Saudi authorities have embarked on an energetic employment drive for its citizens after the Arab Spring, which was fuelled by legions of unemployed youths in Egypt and Yemen.

With the Saudi authorities expressing their seriousness about generating more employment by declaring illegal those businesses that do not employ a set percentage of locals, there has been a race to find jobs for the displaced expatriates in companies where they can still be legally drafted.

The Saudi monarch, King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz, has granted a three-month grace period during which the displaced expatriates can either legalise their status or head home in compliance with Saudi laws.

Well-established Indian companies operating in the Kingdom are opening their doors to accommodate a limited number of the qualified Indians who have been hit by the labour reforms. Ashok Leyland’s Western Auto Company, based in Dammam, has expressed its readiness to recruit qualified executives and technicians having a transferable residency permit.

The Al Faraá Group — a major construction company running five major projects in the Kingdom — is offering jobs to carpenters, masons, helpers, electricians, plumbers, aluminium fitters, heavy duty drivers, light duty drivers and painters.