News / Africa

    Foreign Workers Stay Home to Escape Saudi Visa Crackdown

    Foreign workers show their documents as they gather outside the Saudi immigration ministry waiting for an exit visa as Saudi security begin their search campaign against illegal laborers in downtown Riyadh, Nov. 4, 2013.
    Foreign workers show their documents as they gather outside the Saudi immigration ministry waiting for an exit visa as Saudi security begin their search campaign against illegal laborers in downtown Riyadh, Nov. 4, 2013.
    Reuters
    The streets of the Saudi capital Riyadh were unusually quiet on Monday as many expatriates stayed at home to avoid the start of a government crackdown on illegal foreign workers.
     
    Building sites were deserted, Riyadh's stuttering rush-hour traffic flowed smoothly and many shops and market stalls were closed in normally busy neighborhoods that are home to large numbers of Saudi Arabia's lower-income foreign community.
     
    The government of the world's top oil exporter has promised raids on businesses, markets and residential areas to catch expatriates whose visas are invalid because they are not working for the company that 'sponsored' their entry into the kingdom.
     
    In the Riyadh Industrial Zone, where many workers are foreigners, most shops were closed on Monday morning, according to a witness who said he saw a dozen people scurry for cover when they heard a police siren from a nearby road.
     
    “Nobody has come to buy anything at all today. It's a very bad situation,” said Abu Safwat, a Syrian who owns a machine parts shop in the area.
     
    The enforcement of visa rules is another effort to end a black market for cheap imported workers, cut the foreign labor force and free up private-sector jobs for Saudi nationals.
     
    “The field security campaign, in coordination with the Labor Ministry, will take place in all cities, provinces, villages and rural towns,” Interior Ministry spokesman Major-General Mansour Turki said in a statement on Sunday.
     
    The official Saudi unemployment rate of 12 percent excludes a large number of citizens who say they are not seeking a job.
     
    Raising private sector employment in a country where most Saudis are in government jobs, and where businesses employ more foreigners than locals, is a major challenge for the kingdom.
     
    About nine million foreigners, mostly unskilled laborers or domestic workers, live alongside 18 million Saudis. The money they send home is vital for their own nations, such as Yemen, Ethiopia, the Philippines, Indonesia, India, Pakistan and Egypt.
     
    Labor black market
     
    For decades, Saudi authorities ignored irregularities such as working for firms that had not sponsored their visas or in trades other than those listed on their immigration documents.
     
    That spurred a black market in which foreigners overstayed visas, set up illegal businesses or took low-paid jobs in areas where authorities wanted Saudi workers hired on higher salaries - thwarting implementation of wide-ranging labor reforms that penalize companies for hiring more foreigners than locals.
     
    In March the labor and interior ministries began raiding offices and markets before declaring an amnesty in April to enable foreigners to correct their visas without being fined.
     
    Before the amnesty expired on Monday the government issued repeated warnings for foreigners to correct their status or face punishments including prison, fines and deportation.
     
    Companies employing expatriates without proper visas will also be fined, as will people or firms that charge expatriates a fee to sponsor their visa.
     
    “We want foreigners to remain in the kingdom lawfully,” said Deputy Labor Minister Mufrej al-Haqbani in remarks quoted by the local Arab News English-language daily.
     
    A long queue stretched down the road outside one visa office as Arab and South Asian foreign workers tried to leave without paying fines for overstaying. Some carried personal possessions in hopes of leaving immediately.
     
    A Sri Lankan woman working as a freelance maid in Riyadh said she and several of her friends had decided to stay at home in case they were caught up in government raids.
     
    In the Batha district, home to many low-paid foreigners, some shops were shut and only Saudi employees were working in others. Market stalls had vanished from the normally busy street where vendors hawk fruit, vegetables, clothes and mobile phones.

    You May Like

    Video Somali, AU Forces Face Resurgent Al-Shabab

    Somalia’s Western backers frustrated over country’s slow progress in establishing its armed forces to bring security after 25 years of chaos

    Israel Makes Push for Gaza Strip Recovery

    After years of economic blockade and attempts to disable Hamas, Israeli leaders eventually realized that Hamas’ downfall could lead to chaos or the rise of a more radical Jihadist group

    Slump in Chinese Tourists Hitting Hong Kong Retail

    Mainland Chinese account for up to three-quarters of visitors to Hong Kong, but that number is falling, and shopping centers are struggling to 'shift gears' and maintain sales

    By the Numbers

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Somali, African Union Forces Face Resurgent Al-Shababi
    X
    Henry Ridgwell
    April 28, 2016 4:20 PM
    The Islamic State terror group claimed its first attack in Somalia earlier this week, though the claim has not been verified by forces on the ground. Meanwhile, al-Shabab militants have stepped up their attacks as Somalia prepares for elections later this year. Henry Ridgwell reports there are growing frustrations among Somalia’s Western backers over the country’s slow progress in forming its own armed forces to establish security after 25 years of chaos.
    Video

    Video Somali, African Union Forces Face Resurgent Al-Shabab

    The Islamic State terror group claimed its first attack in Somalia earlier this week, though the claim has not been verified by forces on the ground. Meanwhile, al-Shabab militants have stepped up their attacks as Somalia prepares for elections later this year. Henry Ridgwell reports there are growing frustrations among Somalia’s Western backers over the country’s slow progress in forming its own armed forces to establish security after 25 years of chaos.
    Video

    Video Bangladesh Targeted Killings Spark Wave of Fear

    People in Bangladesh’s capital are expressing deep concern over the brutal attacks that have killed secular blogger, and most recently a gay rights activist and an employee of the U.S. embassy. Xulhaz Mannan, an embassy protocol officer and the editor of the country’s only gay and transgender magazine Roopban; and his friend Mehboob Rabbi Tanoy, a gay rights activist, were hacked to death by five attackers in Mannan’s Dhaka home earlier this month.
    Video

    Video Documentary Tells Tale of Chernobyl Returnees

    Ukraine this week is marking the 30th anniversary of the world's worst nuclear accident, at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. Soviet officials at first said little about the accident, but later evacuated a 2,600-square-kilometer "exclusion zone." Some people, though, came back. American directors Holly Morris and Anne Bogart created a documentary about this faithful and brave community. VOA's Tetiana Kharchenko reports from New York on "The Babushkas of Chernobyl." Carol Pearson narrates.
    Video

    Video Nigerians Feel Bite of Buhari Economic Policy

    Despite the global drop in the price of oil, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has refused to allow the country's currency to devalue, leading to a shortage of foreign exchange. Chris Stein reports from Lagos businessmen and consumers are feeling the impact as the country deals with a severe fuel shortage.
    Video

    Video  Return to the Wild

    There’s a growing trend in the United States to let old or underused golf courses revert back to nature. But as Erika Celeste reports from one parcel in Grafton, Ohio, converting 39 hectares of land back to green space is a lot more complicated than just not mowing the fairway.
    Video

    Video West Urges Unity in Libya as Migrant Numbers Soar

    The Italian government says a NATO-led mission aimed at stemming the flow of migrants from Libya to Europe could be up and running by July. There are concerns that the number of migrants could soar as the route through Greece and the Balkans remains blocked. Western powers say the political chaos in Libya is being exploited by people smugglers — and they are pressuring rival groups to come together under the new unity government. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
    Video

    Video Russia’s TV Rain Swims Against Tide in Sea of Kremlin Propaganda

    Russia’s media freedoms have been gradually eroded under President Vladimir Putin as his government has increased state ownership, influence, and restrictions on critical reporting. Television, where most Russians get their news, has been the main target and is now almost completely state controlled. But in the Russian capital, TV Rain stands out as an island in a sea of Kremlin propaganda.
    Video

    Video Kurdish Town Receives Refugees but Lacks Resources

    A wave of refugees is pouring into the Kurdish town of Afrin in northern Syria as a result of fighting between rebel forces and Islamic State militants. VOA’s Amina Misto went to the town and reports local authorities are finding it difficult to cope with this influx of internally displaced people. Bronwyn Benito narrates her report.
    Video

    Video Scientists Build Human Tissue on Animal Matrix

    The question has always been, if a gecko can grow back its tail, why can't we regenerate our lost body parts? Well, maybe we can, someday. Scientists are moving towards the ability to rebuild fully functioning organs, and have made significant progress replacing muscles and other tissue.
    Video

    Video Containing Chernobyl Radiation Continues 30 Years After Explosion

    April 26 marks the 30th anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. Hundreds were killed following the explosion and it's estimated that thousands more have died from cancers caused by the radiation. Henry Ridgwell traveled to Chernobyl and reports for VOA on the continuing efforts to decommission the site -- and on the fledgling plans for a new future in the vast exclusion zone.
    Video

    Video Frustration Builds Among Refugees Trapped at Macedonian Border

    On the Greek border with Macedonia, 12,000 refugees continue to wait. Since the route to the rest of Europe was closed last month, the makeshift camp at Idomeni has seen protests and tear gas. But while those here wait, their frustration grows — as do reports of people attempting to find new ways of continuing their journey. John Owens reports from Idomeni.
    Video

    Video Researchers: Bees Help Kenyan Farmers Fend Off Elephants

    Elephant crop-raiding continues to be a major source of human-wildlife conflict in Kenya, so one elephant researcher is helping to alleviate the problem near Tsavo East National Park with beehive fences, which use elephants’ natural aversion to bees to deter them from farms. VOA’s Jill Craig visited the area ahead of this month's Giants Club Summit, which will bring together dignitaries at Mount Kenya to find solutions to combat poaching, the No. 1 threat to elephants.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora