Saudi Arabia has announced new measures at the Cabinet meeting chaired by Crown Prince Salman, second deputy premier and minister of defense. The Council of Ministers yesterday adopted a series of decisions to drive out illegal foreign workers who violate the Kingdom’s residency and labor regulations. The move also targets illegal coverup businesses. “The amendments to the residency law will yield positive results in terms of streamlining the labor market,” said Ibrahim Al-Gorabi, a Saudi academician working for King Saud University (KSU), here yesterday.
During the meeting, Article 39 of the Labor Law was amended, preventing sponsors from allowing their employees to work for others.
The Cabinet took the decision on the basis of recommendations made by the Ministry of Interior on how to address the phenomena of foreigners working for firms and individuals other than their original sponsors and runaway domestic workers.
Al-Gorabi added that there are more illegal migrant workers in Saudi Arabia than any time in the past. The problem, he said, further compounds when a foreign worker deserts his sponsor and goes to work for another sponsor, if he or she is given a higher salary, said Al-Gorabi. He said that illegal workers also pose security as well as social problems.
Abdullah Al-Anazi, director general of the department to fight tasattur (cover up business) at the Ministry of Commerce and Industry, said foreigners involved in illegal cover-up businesses transfer more than SR 140 billion to their countries annually.
The majority of tasattur business takes place in the contracting sector (43 percent), followed by retail trade (19.2 percent) and general trade (16 percent). Exact figure of undocumented workers in the Kingdom is unavailable. According to one estimate, the number could reach two million.
The new decisions aim at reorganizing the Kingdom’s labor market and creating more job opportunities for Saudis. It also aims at strengthening the Kingdom’s security as illegal foreigners are behind many crimes including robbery, murder and drug trafficking.
“An employer is not allowed to let his worker works for others nor is he allowed to employ the workers of other sponsors,” the amended law said.
“This is a great decision,” said Dr. Abdul Rahman Al-Rabiah, a prominent Saudi businessman. “There are thousands of foreigners who do not work under their sponsors. Many of them engage in their own private enterprises illegally,” he told Arab News, adding that the Cabinet decision would help clean the market.
Al-Rabiah called for tough punishment for those who do not work under their sponsors. However, he called upon authorities to give qualified foreign workers a final chance to correct their situation “so that there will not be any excuse for them to break the law.”
Another Saudi, who requested anonymity, said the decision to drive away illegal expats would affect businesses in the country. “Many businesses have been depending on these workers who are readily available in the market for years,” he said while highlighting problems to get qualified workers. He indicated that non-availability of workers would shoot up prices of essential goods and services.
The Cabinet has instructed the Ministry of Labor to inspect facilities and investigate irregularities discovered by the inspectors, and then forward their findings to the Interior Ministry to apply penalties on the violators.
“The employer is not allowed to let his worker works for his own account, nor is the worker allowed to work for his own account,” the new law said. Foreigners involved in such illegal practices will be arrested and deported, the law warned.
The new law also applies to foreigners who have run away from sponsors, as well as employers of illegal workers, Saudis who shelter foreigner businesses and those who shelter and transport illegal workers.
This move was not supported by Refaat Karim, an Asian banker who said that the Ministry of Labor must streamline the labor sector first. Any move to detail illegal workers or workers holding valid residency permits (iqamas) but working for other sponsors will create an alarming shortfall in the labor market, Karim added. The government agencies, he said, must give an amnesty period to correct the status of the workers to enable them to stay with the sponsors for whom they are working. “According to Saudi law, once migrant workers leave their initial employers, they become illegal,” he said.