75,000 Indians have already requested Emergency Certificates

External Affairs Minister, Salman Khurshid, arrived in Saudi Arabia on Friday at a delicate moment when the demands for the welfare of around 75,000 Indian workers who may soon have to leave the country have to be balanced with calls for deeper energy and security ties with Riyadh.

Mr. Khurshid’s capacity to safely navigate through the choppy waters of the Red Sea in the port city of Jeddah will commence when he meets the top rung of Saudi leadership on Saturday.

Ahead of his arrival, the Minister frankly acknowledged that he had his task cut out during his three-day visit. He told editors of Urdu publications on Thursday that around 56,700 Indians are facing the possibility of deportation from Saudi Arabia over the next six weeks. Official sources said that 75,000 Indians have already requested Emergency Certificates from the Indian embassy in Riyadh and the consulate in Jeddah.

Among the applicants, the maximum numbers were from Uttar Pradesh (21,331), followed by Andhra Pradesh (8,695), West Bengal (7,913), Tamil Nadu (5,430), Kerala (3,610), Bihar (3035), Rajasthan (2,504) ,Karnataka (1,082), Jammu and Kashmir (906), Maharashtra (766), Assam (710) and Punjab (496).

Ten officials have been sent to the Indian missions in Saudi Arabia to beef up staff, already overburdened with the task of providing emergency travel documents on such a large scale. Mr. Khurshid said that over 4,000 Indian volunteers had come forward to support the missions.The upcoming exodus of Indian workers — mostly in the blue collar category — has followed Saudi Arabia’s decision to enforce the Nitaqat scheme, which entails that Saudi nationals must comprise at least 10 per cent of the workforce in any private enterprise. Any company that fails to comply with this criteria is bracketed in the “red category”—which essentially means that all its business activities, including bank accounts, are frozen, till the time it aligns course in accordance with the new laws.

Fall-out of Arab Spring

Analysts point out that Nitaqat scheme is a fall-out of the Arab Spring, when the Saudi government concluded that the presence of a large army of unemployed youth could fuel uncontrollable political dissent in the Kingdom. “In the wake of Arab Spring uprisings, the government views unemployment among nationals as a long-term strategic challenge that needs to be handled effectively,” said an article at the Arabian Gazette website. A study by the Saudi Central Department of Statistics and Information, put the unemployment rate in the country last year at 12.2 per cent. That meant that about 5,88,000 Saudi nationals were without jobs.

Other estimates have suggested that 39 per cent of the youth in the 15-25 age group, category, are unemployed. Over the years, the Saudi government has sent thousands of its young people abroad for higher studies, resulting in a heavy demand for more jobs at home.

Energy security is expected to emerge as one of the focal talking points during Mr. Khurshid’s visit. Saudi Arabia meets nearly 17 per cent of India’s oil demand, and the bulk of the Kingdom’s energy supplies are headed east towards Asia. He may also have to do some tightrope-walking by conveying to his interlocutors that India’s close ties with Iran are not at the cost of its deepening relations with the Gulf countries.

The two sides are likely to find it difficult to bridge their perceptions on Syria, on account of Saudi Arabia’s unremitting support for the armed opposition against the government of President Bashar Al Assad.