Arab News and the Arabic economics paper Al-Eqtisadiah report that the crackdown on illegal workers in Saudi Arabia has resulted in over 222,000 of them leaving the country. More than 800,000 others left the Kingdom in order to regularize their documents and were permitted to return.
Final exit: Over 200,000 overstayers leave Kingdom
RIYADH: ABDULRAHMAN AL-AQEEL | Arab New/Al-Eqtisadiah
A total of 222,299 people who had overstayed their visit visas, and other non-work visas, have left the Kingdom since the beginning of the amnesty period, according to the Passports Department.
The department said 859,027 foreign workers left the country on exit-and-return visas during the same period.
Checks will take place on the streets and at public places after the grace period ends on Nov. 3, said department spokesperson Lt. Col. Ahmad Al-Luhaydan.
Undocumented expatriates who are not eligible for the current amnesty will not be allowed to leave, he said.
A person needs to prove his identity either by fingerprinting or by producing their original passport or iqama to benefit from the amnesty, he said.
Cases of huroob (where workers run away from their employers), which were reported after the amnesty began, would not benefit from the amnesty, he said.
These workers will not be able to transfer to other sponsors, he said.
Yesterday, Saudi Gazette reported that 224 farms in the Jeddah area were using raw sewage for irrigation. Today, Arab News reports that the problem extends to the Mecca region as well. The article points out that there are ‘illegal farms’, usually run by ‘illegal aliens’, that is, visa overstayers, sometimes with the witting assistance of the Saudi land owners. This really doesn’t put ‘delicious’ into the food.
Veggie farms using sewage destroyed
MAKKAH: The Al-Umrah branch municipality in Makkah has destroyed nearly 25,000 square meters of illegal farms irrigated with sewage, a municipal official said recently.
“Laboratory tests revealed the produce of these farms such as watercress, radish, capsicum and beans was highly contaminated,” said chairman of the branch municipality Hassan Khankar.
He added the farms and their produce were destroyed in collaboration with officials of the Makkah governorate.
He added the municipality would continue inspections to discover if vegetable farms were using polluted water for irrigation.
Saudi Arabia has a serious unemployment problem. There are at least half a million Saudis who are out of work, and that’s counting only the men. With more than half of the Saudi population under the age of 35, and more coming into the job market every year, the shortfall of jobs can only grow in proportion to job-seekers… if nothing is done to address the problem.
Today’s Arab News has several article that look at the issue from different perspectives. The first considers ‘Saudization’, the government program to replace foreign workers with Saudis. With tens of millions of foreign workers in the country, comprising somewhere between 1/4 and 1/3 of all those living in the Kingdom, this seems a logical place to start. Not good news for the foreign workers, of course, but they are not the government, nor Saudi society’s, primary concern.
One of the factors that had led to a general failure of the program has been employer resistance. Foreign workers seem to be more highly motivated to take jobs, any jobs. They put up with often abusive working conditions, inferior pay, don’t have the connections to make a fuss, and receive not-very-high levels of support from their own embassies. As an employer, what’s not to like about this? Replacing those workers with Saudis, who have a spotty record of work ethics, want more money, want decent working conditions, and just may be better ‘connected’ than the employer is not a selling feature.
Recognizing this, the Saudization program is being re-energized following the King’s decree a couple of weeks ago. Carrots and sticks are involved.
New Saudization plan in two weeks
MUHAMMAD AL-SULAMI | ARAB NEWS
JEDDAH: The Labor Ministry will announce its new Saudization plan within two weeks, including the mechanisms to enforce the plan and punishments for companies that show negligence in implementing the program, according to Hattab Al-Anazi, spokesman of the ministry.
Speaking to Arab News, he said the plan is being prepared following a royal decree issued by Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah, which called for intensive efforts to solve the country’s unemployment problem immediately.
Al-Anazi indicated that the plan could prevent defaulters from recruiting foreign workers once and for all, their licenses may not be renewed and would be denied the ministry’s services.
“At the same time, the companies that cooperate with the Saudization plan would get more benefits and incentives,” Al-Anazi said.
Being a Saudi with a job is not all skittles and, well, ‘Saudi champagne.’ Employers still hold most of the cards, even if—or perhaps particularly if—they are major companies. The paper reports on demands being made to introduce some form of trade union structure to argue for workers’ rights, salaries, and working conditions. At present, collective bargaining is prohibited by Saudi law. Trade union movements remain tarred by their earliest manifestation when they were closely aligned to Nasserite politics. More recent observation of trade unions in other Arab countries has not endeared them to the government as various teachers’ unions and lawyers’ unions have tended toward the farther reaches of socialistic thought and radical politics.
Still, there is a valid argument that private sector employees be permitted to speak for themselves and identify those work-related issues they believe need correction.
Saudis in private firms demand trade union
MUHAMMAD AL-SULAMI | ARAB NEWS
JEDDAH: Saudi workers in the private sector are demanding the establishment of a workers union or a similar body to protect their rights.
While collective bargaining is illegal in Saudi Arabia, some Saudis are saying they should be able to form a body based on the model of the Saudi Journalists Association or the Saudi Retirees Association and that it should be governed by an elected body. Business owners would be banned from being members of such an organization under this proposal.
Nasser Al-Jadaani, a car company worker, said workers need their own advocacy group to fight for their rights to have a minimum wage, incremental salary increases and merit-based promotions and annual bonuses.
“Currently we are at the mercy of company managers who would grant us a salary hike or bonus only if we grovel,” he said. “Under this humiliating situation, dedicated Saudi workers are sidelined and they remain forever at the salary on which they started work. They will never get any promotion while those who flatter the bosses are given pay raises and bonuses.
What’s a more vulnerable position than being a foreign worker in Saudi Arabia? Being a foreign worker without documentation.
Last September, the Saudi government offered amnesty—and an exit visa—to foreigners whose visas had expired. This applied to a variety of cases, usually people who had over-stayed their Umrah visas. It did not cover people who had run away from their jobs nor those who had broken other laws. The result is between 100K and 150K foreigners stuck in the Kingdom.
Thousands of foreign workers in limbo after amnesty ends
GHAZANFAR ALI KHAN | ARAB NEWS
RIYADH: If estimates of Asian and African embassies are to be believed, there are still between 100,000 and 150,000 illegal workers in Saudi Arabia, mainly “huroob” (runaway) cases not covered by the six-month general amnesty that ended recently.
Several embassies, which approached senior Saudi officials with request to include huroob cases in the amnesty, have no idea as how to deal with this new problem.
“Clearly the system of general amnesty announced by the Kingdom did not cover all categories of illegal workers,” said an African diplomat.
“The Jeddah-based Indonesian Consulate General could issue only 3,000 outpasses, mostly for Umrah overstayers,” said Didi Wahyudi, a consulate spokesperson.
Here’s a story, from Arab News, that points to the problem of the Saudi propensity to keep embarrassing information out of public sight. Six African ‘over-stayers’—meaning they had stayed in the country past the expiration date of their visas—are found dead along highways in the Kingdom. They are suspected of jumping off the buses transporting them to deportation facilities. But the opacity of the reports leaves the story open for even worse interpretation. This, as are many, many other cases, is a clear indication of why transparency is necessary for government conduct to be understood.
Overstayers die on way to deportation
Muhammad Al-Sulami | Arab News
JEDDAH: The deaths of six African overstayers whose bodies were found in various locations between Jeddah and Al-Leeth, a town to the south of Jeddah, has shocked the authorities.
According to the police, the Passport Department was transporting 200 illegal overstayers from Jazan to Jeddah for deportation.
Apparently, six of them jumped from the moving buses during the journey to Jeddah. Highway police found their bodies at various places between Al-Leeth and Jeddah.
The Passport Department did not report the six Africans missing, which goes against official procedures when overstayers are delivered to the deportation center.
Arab News reports that a group of Saudis, all working for Saudia Catering, which provides food service to airlines using the nation’s airports, has filed a list of complaints against the company. The allegations state that the company, through its hiring and employment practices, is endangering national security, is in violation of Saudization regulations, treats its employees shabbily, and is even causing divorces.
What’s interesting is that they are taking the issue to the media, which this time is naming names, in an effort to get the problems fixed.
Labor Office investigating catering firm
Samir Al-Saadi | Arab News
JEDDAH: The Labor Office in Jeddah is investigating a major catering firm that supplies meals to over 30 airlines, including Saudi Arabian Airlines, after over 100 Saudi employees filed a case complaining of discrimination and slave-like work conditions.
In a signed document, 112 Saudia Catering employees alleged that the company is violating labor laws and endangering national security by employing overstayers in its operations department — the final line before food and drink are boarded onto aircraft.
Employees say they are fed up with the company’s illegal activities and are supporting their allegations with evidence collected over several months, a copy of which Arab News acquired.
Arab News carries this piece that will echo for many American readers: Illegal immigrants cross the southern border to take up jobs citizens seem not to want and die of thirst in the desert. Here, of course, the border is the one between Yemen and Saudi Arabia.
BISHA: Twelve overstayers and their Saudi driver died of thirst on Wednesday in the desert located to the north of Bisha in the southern region of the Kingdom. Col. Abdullah Al-Gharni, the spokesman of Asir police, said that after arriving at the location they found a GMC car broken down in the desert and found the bodies of the victims around it.
Saudi Arabia is trying to find ways of dealing with large numbers of illegal immigrants, mostly from Africa, who are putting enormous strain on infrastructure. In a refrain also heard in the US, the Saudis are realizing that they cannot deport all of them so they need to find some way to ‘regularize’ them. Putting them in remote camps will create new problems, authorities say. Perhaps they can be integrated into Saudi society somehow to take up some of the manual labor Saudis are unwilling to do and for which other laborers are commercially recruited from abroad.
Illegal immigration is an international problem and many nations are looking for answers. No single answer is going to be applicable in all places, but the search may bear international fruit.
JEDDAH, 11 November 2007 â€” Experts say that huge numbers of illegal Africans living in the southern parts of Jeddah is a problem that, if left unattended, could lead to massive demographic changes in Jeddah within 50 years, Al-Watan newspaper reported.
â€œThe authorities need to act quick and do something,â€ said Ihsan Tayeb, a social scientist. â€œThe authorities need to benefit from the large number of illegals in the southern parts of Jeddah by changing their social status and giving them a priority in jobs that Saudis are reluctant to do,â€ he added.
Authorities have failed to effectively deport illegal Africans simply because identifying their country of origin has been an impossible task. â€œThe majority of overstayers hide or burn their passports and are able to speak several African languages, manipulating their dialects each time. The Saudi authorities have a hard time deporting them. They simply donâ€™t know which country they should send them to,â€ said Tayeb.
Saudi Arabia, faced with its own illegal immigration problems, is attacking it directly by detaining and then deporting those not in the country legally, according to this Saudi Gazette article. The ‘Iqama’ cited in the piece is a formal residency permit, required of all foreigners in the country. Without one, or with a false one, deportation results immediately.
Police catch 119,000 Illegals
JEDDAH – Some 119,000 illegal aliens have been arrested in Jeddah in the past months through the anti-crime campaign launched by the Passport Patrol Department in Makkah region.
About 113,000 of these were overstayers while the rest were found to have violated the Iqama rules.
Some 28,735 Pakistanis who entered the Kingdom using Umrah and Haj visas, topped the list of the overstayers. Indians ranked second (21,984), then Yemenis (14,970).
Many of the illegal aliens stayed in the Kandara District (44,625 overstayers) and Petromine District (3,588 last year).
Six Arabs afflicted with AIDS who were deported two years ago were also caught by passport patrols. The Arabs reentered the Kingdom also using Umrah visas.
The Investigation and Detection Department has also seized many fake passports, forged Iqamas and Haj permits, and counterfeit Labor of Ministry stamps in Jeddah.
Another Christian has been arrested in Mecca according to this Arab News piece. This one, a Filipino, was arrested and taken to detention where it was learned that he was a fugitive from Riyadh, where he had been charged with burglary earlier. The article states that the Sri Lankan caught in Mecca last month also had been seeking to escape criminal charges. There are no indications in the story about whether either man was facing charges for illegally being in Mecca.
Suspect in Theft Case Sneaks Into Makkah to Evade Arrest
Zainy Abbas, Arab News
MAKKAH, 7 June 2007 â€” The Passport Department in Makkah recently arrested a Filipino Christian man who had been living in the city illegally and was wanted in relation to a theft in Riyadh.
The man was apprehended when he voluntarily surrendered to Passport Department officials claiming his name was Abdul Hadi and that he was an overstayer. After undergoing fingerprint checks, officials discovered that the man was on the run having stolen from his sponsor in Riyadh.
The Filipino initially arrived in the Kingdom as an electrician six years ago. He stole money from his sponsor and ran away to Makkah after being advised by friends that he would be safe there.
A non-Muslim is found in Mecca. He’s arrested but—so far anyway—there’s no threat to his safety. When I was in Riyadh, the Italian ambassador was discovered in Mecca. He claimed to have been a ‘crypto-Muslim’, one who had converted, but who found it politically expedient to not declare his conversion publicly. All was well with the Saudi government, though there were stories about his actually converting after he’d been found in the restricted city. In any event, he was recalled by the Italian government soon after.
Non-Muslim Overstayer Arrested in Makkah
Zainy Abbas, Arab News
MAKKAH, 21 May 2007 â€” A Sri Lankan Christian was arrested in the holy city of Makkah, which is off-limits to non-Muslims, by the Expatriates Monitoring Committee in Makkah.
The authorities were able to verify the identity of the man, who had claimed he had overstayed his Umrah visa, by running his details through a new fingerprints system.
Nirosh Kamanda had arrived in Dammam to work as a lorry driver and had fled his sponsor to sell goods besides the Grand Mosque in Makkah. The manâ€™s sponsor denied he knew where the man was working.
…After his identity became known, the man admitted he was Christian and that he had come to Makkah to earn money. â€œI heard that Makkah is a safe place, where I could hide my identity,â€ he said.
As many of the world’s more economically advanced countries, Saudi Arabia is experiencing difficulties with illegal aliens. Most come to the country legally, on visas to partake in religious pilgrimages, but then overstay the visa’s validity. Over the past few months, the Saudi government has been rounding up and deporting thousands of these overstayers. With the moves being reported in this Arab News article, the government is trying to get the overstayers to leave on their own and threatening punishment to those who assist them in their illegal residence.
Two Months for Overstayers to Leave Without Questions
P.K. Abdul Ghafour, Arab News
JEDDAH, 3 April 2007 â€” The Passport Department yesterday urged foreign visitors who have overstayed their visas to approach the nearest expatriate affairs offices to clear their papers in order to leave the Kingdom within a two-month grace period.
â€œThose who provide accommodation, transport and job to overstayers will be asked to pay a fine of not less than SR10,000 and jailed for not more than six months,â€ the department said. The two-month grace period begins today.
â€œThe Saudi rules and regulations do not allow those who have come on visit visa to stay in the country after the expiry of their visa,â€ the Saudi Press Agency said quoting an official. The law applies on foreigners who have come to visit their families, for business, treatment or other purposes.
â€œThis announcement is made out of our desire that no one violate the Kingdomâ€™s regulations and everybody follows its instructions and cooperate with its agencies,â€ the statement said….
WADI AL-DAWASER, 26 March 2007 â€” Police here have arrested two women suspected to be part of an all-women gang that kidnapped two young girls after sedating them, the daily Al-Yaum reported yesterday.
… Sami Al-Shwairik, a spokesman for the local police, said, â€œAs soon as we received a call about the incident we started a massive search. Two women were arrested and have been charged with kidnapping after Al-Jazia identified one of them.â€
Police are still looking for at least three other women involved in the case.
Bander Al-Dawasri, who helped the girl return to her family, said, â€œThe area is full of overstayers who pose a serious security threat. The authorities need to to look into it and increase police patrols.â€
Saudi Gazette also has Suspects Arrested in Kidnapping Case“>a story.
Arab News has this bizarre story coming from south-central Saudi Arabia. It’s interesting to note, though, that the officials seem to think it’s related to the Saudi problem with illegal immigrants (‘overstayers’), and may be another flag being raised about the extent of the problem.