RIYADH: Thousands of illegal foreigners, mostly unskilled workers from Asia, are rushing to leave Saudi Arabia as an amnesty expires today and they risk being fined or jailed.
Nearly a million Bangladeshis, Filipinos, Indians, Nepalese, Pakistanis and Yemenis, among others, have benefitted from the three-month amnesty — announced on April 3 and extended for four months — and left. Another roughly 4m have legalised their status by finding employers to sponsor them.
But the clock is ticking, and the labour ministry has said there will be no second chance, despite appeals from some Asian governments. “We have absolutely no intention of prolonging the amnesty,” said ministry spokesman Hattab Al Anzi.
Pakistan says it has been pressing for an extension of the amnesty until January-end. Even so, foreign ministry spokesman Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry said: “We are trying our best to legalise as many Pakistanis as we can before the deadline ends.”
Indian foreign ministry spokesman Syed Akbaruddin said: “We have not asked for extra time,” explaining Indians had been urged to “abide by the rules, and we have had remarkable success”.
Foreigners are queuing outside government offices to sort out the paperwork for leaving the kingdom or legalising their stay.
The Arab News daily said some Indians seeking repatriation had waited for more than 31 hours at the deportation centre in Jeddah for documents to leave.
The Immigration Department said more than 900,000 people have left with final exit visas. Expatriates account for around 9m of the country’s 27m population. Saudi Arabia’s unemployment rate among natives is above 12.5 percent, which the government is aiming to reduce. AFP