Riyadh, Asharq Al-Awsat—A state of anticipation and caution continues to be felt among Saudi Arabia’s expatriate workers across Saudi Arabia this week following the start of a security crackdown on illegal workers.
Saudi authorities had given foreign workers a seven-month grace period to get their visas in order before Sunday’s clampdown.
Saudi authorities announced they had arrested 16,487 illegal workers across seven provinces over a two day period. The largest number of arrests were recorded in Jizan Province, with 7,000 illegal workers arrested over the past two days. 3,000 illegal Yemeni workers were reportedly deported over a 24-hour period, according to informed sources.
In Mecca Province, 5,000 illegal workers were arrested, 1,187 were recorded arrested in Najran Province and 818 in Riyadh.
Interior Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Mansour Al-Turki had announced the end of the grace period for illegal workers on Sunday. He announced the enactment of a security plan to arrest and deport illegal workers across the Kingdom.
“The field security campaign, in coordination with the Labor Minister, will take place in all cities, provinces, villages, and rural towns,” Turki said. He affirmed that the plan aimed to target foreign nationals with expired visas, whether they had entered the country on a pilgrimage, tourism, or for medical treatment, in addition to anybody who had illegally entered the country.
“The campaign also aims to arrest whoever employs any violator. It also targets anyone providing residence or transportation for violators,” he added.
“The Public Security [service], with all its affiliates, is assigned to arrest the illegal expatriates and hand them over to the relevant authorities in the General Directorate of Prisons in order to complete legal procedures, implement penalties and deportation,” the Interior Ministry spokesman said.
Reports claim that many illegal workers have elected to stay off the streets for fear of being arrested, hoping to ride out the current crackdown.
A number of shops in Riyadh have remained closed since the end of the grace period, either due to illegal workers staying home or having been arrested, or because owners fear prosecution for their illegal hiring practices.
Media reports claimed that approximately 60 percent of commercial shops in Jizan Province were closed, while approximately 40 percent of restaurants were also shut down.
However hundreds of thousands of illegal workers are estimated to have taken advantage of the 7-month grace period to leave the country legally. Overseas Indian Affairs Minister Valayat Ravi confirmed that 134,000 Indian workers had returned to the country from Saudi Arabia during the grace period.
Saudi employers face heavy fines for continuing to employ undocumented workers following the end of the grace period, with employers also facing the cost of deportation. Self-employed illegal foreign workers will be required to pay the cost of their own deportation. Those unable to afford this will be deported at the expense of the Saudi government.
This week’s clampdown comes as part of efforts to secure more job opportunities for Saudi workers, part of the so-called “Saudization” policy. This policy requires private companies to reserve a certain number of jobs for Saudi nationals.