Indian expatriates, particularly those from Kerala heaved a big sigh of relief on Tuesday as the King of Saudi Arabia ordered extension of the Nitaqat (naturalisation) deadline by four months. The deadline for expatriates without valid work permits to leave the country, which was to expire on Wednesday (July 3), would now be November 4.
“This is a big relief and a blessing in disguise,” State Non-Resident Keralites Affairs (NoRKA) Minister K.C. Joseph told The Hindu when news about the Saudi King’s order became known. The Saudi government’s gesture would give all workers without valid work permits the opportunity to legalise their stay in the Kingdom and allow others to return without harm to their future job prospects. “India is indebted to the Saudi government for this gracious gesture,” he said.
Mr. Joseph said the State government was particularly grateful to Indian Ambassador to Saudi Arabia Hamid Ali Rao, Chief of Mission Siby George and the various Malayali organisations, which had worked overtime to ensure that Indian expatriate workers caught in the Nitaqat web were given all possible support and guidance. The situation was not as alarming as it was feared initially as only fewer than 70,000 applications for exit visas had been received from Indians at the Embassy and of these only 7,000 were from Keralites, but the plight of those who would have been affected by the Nitaqat law could not be overlooked, he pointed out.
The NoRKA Minister said the Saudi government’s decision would not only give more time to expatriate workers without valid permits to secure these, but also ensure that those whose status had become illegal for want of proper documents and those whose documents had been withheld by their original sponsors got the opportunity to legalise their stay in the kingdom. On his visit to Saudi Arabia, he had himself seen around 4,000 passports withheld by sponsors being returned to claimants. The help desks opened by various Malayali organisations with volunteers sent on a daily basis were a great help in the hour of crisis, he added.
Mr. Joseph hoped that other GCC countries would also adopt the Saudi model. The situation in Kuwait, he said, was particularly worrisome as, unlike in Saudi Arabia, workers with valid work permits too were being evicted from the country in the name of naturalisation. The Union Government should ensure that hence forth nobody is allowed to go abroad for taking jobs without valid documents. He had raised this issue at the meeting convened the other day by Union Minister for Overseas Indian Affairs Vayalar Ravi and was assured that steps would be taken to ensure this, the Minister said.
K.V. Abdul Khader, first chairman of the Kerala Assembly Committee on Welfare of Non-Resident Keralites, also expressed relief at the extension of amnesty to illegal expatriate workers by the Saudi Government and hoped that this would result in the governments at the Central and State levels doing their best for the expatriate workers safety in the kingdom.
This article has been corrected for a factual error.