Extension of amnesty for those not in compliance with Nitaqat laws unlikely

Anxiety has gripped a section of foreign workers – mostly in the blue collar category – who face a Sunday deadline to either find new jobs or complete formalities for their exit from Saudi Arabia as the Arab state has embarked on a new set of labour laws to generate more employment for its own nationals.

Among the bulk of foreign workers from South Asia, Indians appeared best prepared to comply with the Kingdom’s new rules.

The Indian embassy in Riyadh said in a statement that by October 21, more than one million Indians had realigned their status in accordance with Saudi Arabia’s new laws. Among them, 3,59,997 had found new employment, 3,55,035 had managed to change their job title, and 4,66,689 had renewed their residence permit.

Saudi Arabia’s total population of around 28 million has a heavy expat component of around nine million, says the website arabianbusiness.com.

Labour reforms after Arab Spring

The Kingdom began to seriously focus on labour reforms following the Arab Spring, when youth unemployment became a major trigger for uprisings that brought down several regimes in the region.

Learning from that experience, the Kingdom launched its Nitaqat policy, which mandated that the country’s private sector must ensure that Saudi nationals make up at least 10 per cent of the workforce.

Those who were displaced—mostly from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and the Philippines — were granted an extended amnesty to either find new jobs, re-negotiate their contracts, or leave the country, without incurring penalties.

Diplomatic sources in the Indian embassy said that emergency certificates were issued to those who wished to leave but due to situational exigencies, did not have a valid passport with them. However, it had been hard to issue emergency travel documents to workers who had no record to substantiate their claim of having had passports, or legal residency permits, in the past.

The embassy statement said 77,054 Indians had been issued emergency certificates, out of which an estimated 95 per cent were able to leave the country.

The mission has also set up help cells at the labour and deportation centres to assist those who are not eligible to benefit from the grace period concessions.

Analysts say that it is highly unlikely that those without emergency certificates will get relief after the Sunday deadline expires.

No further extension of deadline

Local officials ruled out a further extension of the amnesty, the Saudi daily Arab News reported. On the contrary, inspectors are set to raid commercial enterprises from Monday to ensure that those expats who do not possess legal documents are removed from the workforce to face an uncertain future.