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Illegal OFWs in Saudi Arabia breathe easier as king suspends crackdown

April 7, 2013 3:15pm
(Updated 7:54 a.m., April 8) - RIYADH/MANILA – Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah on Saturday ordered a three-month delay to a crackdown on migrant workers which has led to thousands of deportations, to give foreigners in the kingdom a chance to sort out their papers.

The world's top oil exporter has more than nine million expatriates whose remittances home provide important revenue for countries including Yemen, India, Pakistan and the Philippines.

Over a million Filipinos reside in Saudia Arabia, the country that hosts the greatest number of OFWs. Many of those will presumably be affected by a crackdown.

"King Abdullah directed both the Interior Ministry and the Labor Ministry to give an opportunity to workers in breach of the labor and residency regulations in the kingdom to clarify their status in a period not exceeding three months," said a statement carried on official media.

More than 200,000 foreigners have been deported from the country over the past few months, a passports department official said in comments reported by al-Hayat daily this week.

The crackdown is part of labor market reforms aimed at putting more Saudi nationals into private sector jobs, where they now make up only a tenth of the workforce. The most recent central bank statistics, for 2011, showed nine in 10 working Saudis were employed by the public sector.

Binay urges OFWs to follow Saudi Arabia's laws

Even as he welcomed the Saudi government's three-month reprieve for illegal workers, Vice President Jejomar Binay on Sunday called on Filipino workers in the kingdom to use the opportunity to correct their status.

Binay, who is presidential adviser on Overseas Filipino Worker concerns, also reminded OFWs to follow the laws of their respective host countries.

"I call on our kababayans in Saudi to grab this opportunity to correct your status. Follow the labor laws of your host country and resolve any work violations you might have committed," he said on his Facebook account.

“To those planning to work overseas, please make sure to go through the legal channels and file your proper documents to avoid any untoward incidents,” he added.

He also urged Philippine diplomatic posts in Saudi Arabia to expedite the processing of working documents, and to extend all assistance they could give.

'Allocate more resources'
 
Meanwhile, the Blas F. Ople Policy Center, a non-government organization assisting overseas Filipino workers in distress, welcomed the three-month delay to a crackdown on illegal foreign workers.
 
“Thousands of OFWs in Saudi Arabia without proper documents are overjoyed by this announcement because they can now at least freely move around and seek the embassy’s help in correcting their status," said Susan Ople, head of the Blas F. Ople Center.
 
Ople noted that OFWs who have lost contact with their original sponsors would need the help of the Philippine Embassy in Riyadh and other diplomatic offices in Saudi Arabia to comply with the requirements.
 
The Blas F. Ople Policy Center thus called on the Philippine government to allocate more resources to help serve the OFWs in Saudi Arabia.

"Three months can go by fast, so we hope that our diplomatic posts in Saudi Arabia can be given the resources and personnel needed to help our OFWs take advantage of the grace period,” Ople said.
 
“Last year, ten foreign posts in other countries were closed down by the DFA and DBM to shift more resources to our embassies in the Middle East. We ask now the Philippine government to immediately allocate part of those savings to augment the resources of our embassy in Saudi Arabia as well as in other countries in the Middle East so that they can better serve our workers,” the Blas F. Ople Policy Center added.

Low employment among Saudis

The Middle East's largest economy grew by 6.8 percent last year, but regards low employment among nationals as a long-term strategic challenge, a view given added impetus after joblessness in nearby countries contributed to revolutions.

"The Labor Ministry does inspections inside the enterprises to make sure there are no violations to the labour system ... We will continue our work to make sure labour system regulations are applied," Labor Ministry spokesman Hattab al-Enazi told Reuters on Saturday before the king's announcement.

Under Saudi law, expatriates have to be sponsored by their employer, but many switch jobs without transferring their residency papers.

That has allowed companies to dodge strict Labor Ministry quotas regulating the number of Saudis and expatriates each firm can employ by booking their foreign workers under a different sponsor. Companies with too few Saudi employees face fines.

It has also led to the emergence of a labour black market in which sponsors illegally charge expatriates to renew their residence documents when they in fact work for somebody else.

Inspections

Some businesses in the past week have reported difficulties operating as expatriate workers stayed at home to avoid inspectors coming to check their residence permits.

Parents of children at two private schools in Riyadh said there had been unscheduled holidays for the past week as teachers stayed at home for fear inspectors would discover their residence papers were incorrect.

"Now my kids can resume studies as normal," said the mother of three children at one of the schools.

On Monday Yemen expressed concern at the rapid pace of deportations of its workers, who provide around $2 billion in remittances a year to Saudi Arabia's impoverished neighbour.

In India, Oommen Chandy the Chief Minister of Kerala, home to a large number of expatriates based in Saudi Arabia, wrote to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh asking him to intervene, Press Trust of India reported on Friday.

The most recent annual report from Saudi Arabia's central bank said remittances from the country in 2011 grew by 5.4 percent from 2010 to 103.5 billion riyals ($27.6 billion), or 17.4 percent of its current account surplus.

"When I heard of the inspection campaigns I was very depressed. I am the only source of income to my family and in light of the current situation in Egypt, I thought if I went back I would find no real job," said Abo Hassan, who did not give his full name.

He said he pays his sponsor 1,500 riyals a year while working privately as a driver.

Last month the Labor Ministry said extensive reforms adopted over the past year have put more than 600,000 Saudi citizens into private sector jobs. Reuters/HS/KG, GMA News
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