Riyadh, Oct. 9 (Reuters): Saudi Arabia has told foreign workers — about a third of its 27 million population — to make sure their visas are in order before a planned crackdown next month or face possible deportation, local media reported today.
Arab News newspaper reported last month that 5.3 million foreign workers had put their papers in order since April. Hundreds of thousands of others left the country during that time, officials have said. A text message sent to Saudi mobile phones yesterday read: “The deadline to correct status is approaching. Quickly rectify your situation to avoid punishment after November 4.”
The kingdom has turned a blind eye to minor violations of its strict labour regulations for decades, allowing an influx of cheap labour used both by companies and as domestic workers. Yemen, Egypt, Lebanon, Ethiopia, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Indonesia all have large numbers of citizens working in Saudi Arabia and all rely heavily on their remittances.
As part of a series of reforms over the last two years, Saudi Arabia has tried to free up jobs for its own citizens, 12 per cent of whom are unemployed, according to official data. The figure does not include the much larger number of people who are jobless but not looking for work. Senior Saudis have frequently spoken of efforts to raise employment among locals as one of the biggest long-term challenges facing the kingdom.
A majority of the Saudi workforce is employed by the government, Central Bank figures show, but efforts to reduce joblessness by stimulating the economy with free market reforms have mostly created posts for expatriates.