News / Middle East

Saudi King Orders Delay to Illegal Worker Crackdown

Foreign construction laborers rest on a street in Riyadh, Dec. 3, 2012.Foreign construction laborers rest on a street in Riyadh, Dec. 3, 2012.
Foreign construction laborers rest on a street in Riyadh, Dec. 3, 2012.
Foreign construction laborers rest on a street in Riyadh, Dec. 3, 2012.
Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah on Saturday ordered a three-month delay to a crackdown on migrant workers which has led to thousands of deportations, to give foreigners in the kingdom a chance to sort out their papers.

The world's top oil exporter has more than nine million expatriates whose remittances home provide important revenue for countries including Yemen, India, Pakistan and the Philippines.

"King Abdullah directed both the Interior Ministry and the Labor Ministry to give an opportunity to workers in breach of the labour and residency regulations in the kingdom to clarify their status in a period not exceeding three months,'' said a statement carried on official media.

More than 200,000 foreigners have been deported from the country over the past few months, a passports department official said in comments reported by al-Hayat daily this week.

The crackdown is part of labor market reforms aimed at putting more Saudi nationals into private sector jobs, where they now make up only a tenth of the workforce. The most recent central bank statistics, for 2011, showed nine in 10 working Saudis were employed by the public sector.

The Middle East's largest economy grew by 6.8 percent last year, but regards low employment among nationals as a long-term strategic challenge, a view given added impetus after joblessness in nearby countries contributed to revolutions.

"The Labor Ministry does inspections inside the enterprises to make sure there are no violations to the labour system ... We will continue our work to make sure labor system regulations are applied,'' Labor Ministry spokesman Hattab al-Enazi told Reuters on Saturday before the king's announcement.

Under Saudi law, expatriates have to be sponsored by their employer, but many switch jobs without transferring their residency papers.

That has allowed companies to dodge strict Labor Ministry quotas regulating the number of Saudis and expatriates each firm can employ by booking their foreign workers under a different sponsor. Companies with too few Saudi employees face fines.

It has also led to the emergence of a labor black market in which sponsors illegally charge expatriates to renew their residence documents when they in fact work for somebody else.


Some businesses in the past week have reported difficulties operating as expatriate workers stayed at home to avoid inspectors coming to check their residence permits.

Parents of children at two private schools in Riyadh said there had been unscheduled holidays for the past week as teachers stayed at home for fear inspectors would discover their residence papers were incorrect.

"Now my kids can resume studies as normal,'' said the mother of three children at one of the schools.

On Monday Yemen expressed concern at the rapid pace of deportations of its workers, who provide around $2 billion in remittances a year to Saudi Arabia's impoverished neighbor.

In India, Oommen Chandy the Chief Minister of Kerala, home to a large number of expatriates based in Saudi Arabia, wrote to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh asking him to intervene, Press Trust of India reported on Friday.

The most recent annual report from Saudi Arabia's central bank said remittances from the country in 2011 grew by 5.4 percent from 2010 to $27.6 billion, or 17.4 percent of its current account surplus.

"When I heard of the inspection campaigns I was very depressed. I am the only source of income to my family and in light of the current situation in Egypt, I thought if I went back I would find no real job,'' said Abo Hassan, who did not give his full name.

He said he pays his sponsor 1,500 riyals a year while working privately as a driver.

Last month the Labor Ministry said extensive reforms adopted over the past year have put more than 600,000 Saudi citizens into private sector jobs.

You May Like

Guatemala Mudslide Death Toll Rises to 86

Death toll is expected to continue to rise as emergency crews dig through tons of earth for an estimated 350 people still missing More

Goodbye Pocahontas: Photos Reveal Today's Real Native Americans

Weary of stereotypes, photographer Matika Wilbur is determined to reshape the public's perception of her people More

Debris Found in Search for Missing Ship

Objects located Sunday have not yet been confirmed to be from the 240 meter container ship, El Faro, which disappeared in the eye of Hurricane Joaquin, according to US Coast Guard More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europei
Luis Ramirez
October 02, 2015 4:45 PM
European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europe

European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video First Self-Driving Truck Debuts on European Highways

The first automated semi-trailer truck started its maiden voyage Friday, Oct. 2, on a European highway. The Daimler truck called 'Actros' is the first potentially mass-produced truck whose driver will be required only to monitor the situation, similar to the role of an airline captain while the plane is in autopilot mode. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video Nano-tech Filter Cleans Dirty Water

Access to clean water is a problem for hundreds of millions of people around the world. Now, a scientist and chemical engineer in Tanzania (in East Africa) is working to change that by creating an innovative water filter that makes dirty water safe. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.

Video Demand Rising for Organic Produce in Cambodia

In Cambodia, where rice has long been the main cash crop, farmers are being encouraged to turn to vegetables to satisfy the growing demand for locally produced organic farm products. Daniel de Carteret has more from Phnom Penh.

Video Migrant Influx Costs Europe, But Economy Could Benefit

The influx of hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants is testing Europe’s ability to respond – especially in the poorer Balkan states. But some analysts argue that Europe will benefit by welcoming the huge numbers of young people – many of them well educated and willing to work. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

Video Botanists Grow Furniture, with Pruning Shears

For something a bit out of the ordinary to furnish your home, why not consider wooden chairs, crafted by nature, with a little help from some British botanists with an eye for design. VOA’s Jessica Berman reports.

Video New Fabric Helps Fight Dust-Related Allergies

Many people around the world suffer from dust-related allergies, caused mainly by tiny mites that live in bed linen. Polish scientists report they have successfully tested a fabric that is impenetrable to the microscopic creatures. VOA’s George Putic has more.

Video Burkina Faso's Economy Deeply Affected by Political Turmoil

Political turmoil in Burkina Faso over the past year has taken a toll on the economy. The transitional government is reporting nearly $70 million in losses in the ten days that followed a short-lived coup by members of the presidential guard earlier this month. The crisis shut businesses and workers went on strike. With elections on the horizon, Emilie Iob reports on what a return to political stability can do for the country's economic recovery.

Video Fleeing Violence, Some Syrians Find Refuge in Irbil

As Syrians continue to flee their country’s unrest to seek new lives in safer places, VOA Persian Service reporter Shepol Abbassi visited Irbil, where a number Syrians have taken refuge. During the religious holidy of Eid al-Adha, the city largely shut down, as temperatures soared. Amy Katz narrates his report.

Video Nigeria’s Wecyclers Work for Reusable Future in Lagos

The streets and lagoons of Africa's largest city - Lagos, Nigeria - are often clogged with trash, almost none of which gets recycled. One company is trying to change that. Chris Stein reports for VOA from Lagos.

Video Sketch Artist Helps Catch Criminals, Gives a Face to Deceased

Police often face the problem of trying to find a crime suspect based on general descriptions that could fit hundreds of people in the vicinity of the crime. In these cases, an artist can use information from witnesses to sketch a likeness that police can show the public via newspapers and television. But, as VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, such sketches can also help bring back faces of the dead.

Video Thailand Set to Build China-like Internet Firewall

Thai authorities are planning to tighten control over the Internet, creating a single international access point so they can better monitor content. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Bangkok on what is being called Thailand’s own "Great Firewall."

Video Croatian Town’s War History Evokes Empathy for Migrants

As thousands of Afghanistan, Iraqi and Syrian migrants pass through Croatia, locals are reminded of their own experiences with war and refugees in the 1990s. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from the town of Vukovar, where wartime scars still are visible today.

Video Long Drought Affecting California’s Sequoias

California is suffering under a historic four-year drought and scientists say even the state's famed sequoia trees are feeling the pain. The National Park Service has started detailed research to see how it can help the oldest living things on earth survive. VOA’s George Putic reports.

VOA Blogs