The clock is ticking toward the amnesty deadline and there’s now less than a month left before the amnesty period is over. Large number of expatriates have taken advantage and benefited from the grace period to rectify their status, escaping from abusive sponsors or finally transferring to a real company or sponsors after the frustration of chasing their main sponsor, who existed only in paper.
There is, however, another large number of expatriates who have not been, for one reason or another, able to rectify their status. There are those who simply do not care about the amnesty period believing that they are benefiting from violating the residential law. They will only become cautious and be on the lookout once the amnesty period is over and the passport department and labor office begin their search for illegals.
There are some people, Saudis and expatriates, who have been against the campaign saying that it has given them more headaches than benefit. Saudis against it have said that the campaign did more damage than good to their business. Expatriates against it have said they were facing a lot of difficulties going back and forth to meet the needs of the passport department, or trying to find new sponsors or looking for their original sponsors. They say that the previous situation, despite its pain, was more comfortable.
They, however, should realize that in the end the campaign is for the benefit of both — now and in the future. This of course does not include those who have come to the country on Umrah or Haj visa and decided to overstay.
Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah ordered an extension to the amnesty period by three more months after the first amnesty period proved not enough to fix the situation of many expatriate workers. It was not the fault of expatriates, but many government departments were caught by surprise and they did not begin fixing their situation until weeks later.
Despite that, over 3 million expatriates managed to rectify their situation. Yet there are many others who are stranded and left rooted in their place because of bureaucratic procedures.
If we look at the problem in general, it is us who have placed ourselves in this situation in the first place. It is us who had given these workers visas to come to our country. It is Saudis who, through dummy-business license, issued visas and flooded the market with labors. This period of rectifying status must have exposed some bad apples among the Saudi sponsors, who have been abusing the visa system. They should be blacklisted and banned for life from recruiting from abroad.
It is because of them that hundreds of thousands of expatriates are roaming the streets searching for jobs to pay the Saudi sponsors.
Rectifying status was meant to hit hard at abusive and manipulating Saudi sponsors who were enslaving expatriate workers for a monthly income that goes straight to their pockets. The money earned by the poor expatriate invariably lines the pocket of a greedy sponsor.
The campaign will surely organize the labor market and that will reduce some economic, social and security risks. This campaign will also help in the Saudization process because it will push the small and middle establishments to employ Saudis in place of expatriates in jobs that fall under the Saudization list.
One of the solutions to prevent Saudi sponsors from abusing the visa system is to do a regular check on establishments that have been licensed to operate and have recruited from abroad. Their bank transactions should be monitored monthly. The Labor Ministry should check their operations and see whether they have a location and assets on the ground.
The problem started when the Labor Ministry did not check on most of the businesses that have recruited large number of workers from abroad. If a check had been done then this problem would have been easy to solve by now.
I sometimes ask the question, what will happen after the grace period is over? In an act of good faith, the passport department should look into the cases of those who have submitted their application before the grace period is over, and to fix it after the grace period. For these expatriates sometimes face difficulties beyond their abilities, something that could take time to fix.
It has been reported that the grace period will not be extended again. We need to double the effort in the time remaining to help expatriate rectify their statuses and for Saudi sponsors to transfer those they need for their business to their sponsorship.
The Haj vacation is around the corner, and departments related to rectifying status should work for a certain period of time during Haj vacation so no time is wasted.
The country should show leniency toward those who have sought to rectify their status but for whatever reasons their paperwork have not been finalized. They should be given the opportunity to come back on a new visa and get a fresh start away from abusive sponsors.
– Mahmoud Ahmad can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org