Faiz Ahmad Kidwai, Consul-General of India, Jeddah, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, is the man on ground zero as the Nitaqat law takes effect. During the Nitaqat grace period, he was in the thick of things as the country’s representative in Jeddah, the second largest city in the Kingdom after Riyadh and a commercial hub with a large Indian diaspora. Jeddah is also the principal gateway to Mecca. In interviews done over e-mail and phone with Krishnadas Rajagopal, he recounts the anxieties of immigrants, hard work of his staffers and some heart-rending cases of immigrants his Consulate witnessed.
Edited excerpts of the interview:
The Hindu: Has the Riyadh clashes between migrant workers and Saudi authorities left the Indian immigrant community jittery?
Mr. Faiz Ahmad Kidwai: No, there is no panic. Saudi authorities are deporting certain other nationalities with more illegal persons. There were no Indians in the Riyadh incident, which was a reaction to an individual incident rather than a general thing.
Was there any attempt to reach out to individual immigrants during the grace period?
We have the largest expatriate community spread all over theKingdom, especially in many interior locations. The Embassy of India, Riyadh, was one of the first diplomatic missions in Saudi Arabia to bring out detailed guidelines for Indians, which were disseminated through the media, Indian community, and by word of mouth — to reach out to the last individual in the country. It is one of the primary reasons why Indian missions in the country were not only ahead of their counterparts in assisting Indians but also completed almost all their work in time — while others languished and are presently demanding another extension of the grace period. We used our available resources, including community members and Indian International Schools to disseminate information and help immigrants with paper work and legalisation process during the grace period.
Your insight into the relationship between Saudi officialdom and the immigrants following the declaration of Nitaqat...
My experience with the Saudi authorities has been a pleasant one. They are not only appreciative of the honest, hard-working and law-abiding nature of the Indian diaspora but also willing to go the extra mile to accommodate their case. There could have been some shortcomings in their efforts at times, but those were primarily due to the huge workload generated and not because of lack of intent. The Ministry of Labour opened extra offices to cater to the huge workload and even recruited extra staff. As far as the Ministry of Interior, which is one of the two Ministries involved in this correction procedure, is concerned, it was working round the clock in shifts and on Tuesday — the day given to us for fingerprinting of our nationals at the Jeddah Deportation Centre — we were working 24 hours non-stop to cater to each and every national who approached us for fingerprinting. The Interior Ministry staff were guiding and assisting us in this work throughout.
What are the legal solutions or diplomatic aid for immigrants who could not benefit from the grace period?
Despite our best efforts some Indians may not have benefited from the grace period on account of : (a) not coming under the provisions of grace period, (b) complications like death of sponsor, lack of any document to facilitate their exit, or legal complications. We have collated such cases category-wise and sent them to various Saudi government offices as well as handed them a letter and travel documents for facilitation of the process at a later date. Thus, I would like to stress that even those cases where we have not been able to complete the process are essentially work-in-progress and we hope to solve them in due course.
What was your personal experience while dealing with individual immigrants during the grace period?
Given the nature of Indian diaspora in this country — mostly illiterate and semi-literate, blue-collared, unaware of developing situation — there were apprehensions that Nitaqat and grace period would cause great human miseries. A few of the most touching cases were those in which infants, who were not properly documented either due to the carelessness of their parents or lack of proper residency for the parents, had to undergo periods of uncertainty. Since blue-collar workers were on non-family visa, they tried to get their wives on Umrah/Haj visas. There were hundreds of cases where the wives overstayed for periods ranging from one year to 15-20 years and had children. They would have never gone back as they could not have returned to Saudi Arabia. We have issued over 100 passports to children born to these parents. Many have returned and can visit the Kingdom without penalties.
What is the situation of immigrants from Kerala, a State in which a large number of families depend on the monthly income of people working in Saudi Arabia?
A surprisingly small number of Kerala-based individuals approached us for facilitation of exit. Thus, I feel that many Keralites have benefited from the grace period by getting their residency status corrected. Even those who have left the country during the grace period would have the option of coming back for jobs.