From Nitaqat to Tent City: A look into the Saudi crackdown on illegal workers
Here's a look into the Saudi crackdown on illegal workers and the situation of undocumented Filipinos in that country:
Start of the Saudi crackdown
The crackdown operations started on March 28 this year because of the “Saudization” policy (nitaqat) or the policy encouraging the employment of Saudi nationals in private firms.
Reprieve given by the Saudi King
Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah on April 6 ordered a three-month delay to a crackdown on illegal migrant workers that has led to thousands of deportations.
The reprieve, which will end on July 4 this year, aims to give foreigners in the kingdom a chance to sort out their papers.
Filipinos in Saudi Arabia
Saudi Arabia, the world's top oil exporter, has more than nine million expatriates, including those from Yemen, India, Pakistan and the Philippines.
Saudi is host to the biggest population of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) —about 1.5 million—many of whom are nurses, engineers, architects, and domestic workers.
The Commission on Filipinos Overseas' Stock Estimate of Overseas Filipinos indicates that in 2011:
- there were around 20,000 undocumented Pinoys in Saudi Arabia, and
- there were 1,530,218 legal Filipino workers there.
A 2012 report of the Philippine Overseas Labor Office (POLO) and the Overseas Workers’ Welfare Administration (OWWA) showed that there are:
- 20,000 undocumented workers in Riyadh;
- 10,000 in Jeddah and in the Western Region;
- 300 in the Eastern Region; and
- 100 in Central Region
Punishment for illegal workers
Labor Secretary Rosalinda Baldoz urged some 20,000 undocumented Filipino workers to legalize their stay there.
After the reprieve, Baldoz said Saudi authorities will fully enforce the country's labor and visa requirement, and punish violators with steep fines and jail time.
Saudi penalties range from 1,000 to 50,000 Saudi riyals (P11,002-P550,105), Baldoz noted.
No amnesty so far has been issued by the Saudi government, causing undocumented Filipino workers to flock the Philippine consulate, hoping for a speedy repatriation.
However, repatriation in the Middle East, particularly in Saudi takes time. Obtaining a certificate of no-objection from the undocumented worker's former employer — a pre-requisite for an exit visa — is a difficult and complicated process.
According to the DFA, some 1,000 OFWs camping outside the consulate, creating a Pinoy "Tent City," as they seek to be repatriated to the Philippines to avoid being arrested when the crackdown resumes.
The migrant workers advocacy group Migrante-Middle East said the undocumented Filipinos started camping outside the Philippine Consulate on April 11, or five days after the Saudi King announced a three-month reprieve on the crackdown against illegal workers.
According to a report in GMA News TV's "Balita Pilipinas Ngayon" on Tuesday, the Filipinos at the consulate have been camping out in hot, dirty, and haphazard conditions, causing some of the children to contract diseases.
According to Labor Secretary Rosalinda Baldoz, children, along with their mothers who are undocumented workers, will need to undergo stringent requirements imposed by the local authorities.
Baldoz explained that undocumented workers lack the proper documents — like a marriage contract or Iqama — to have the stay of their children in Saudi legalized. - Andrei Medina, VVP/BM, GMA News