Thousands of Asian expatriates in Saudi Arabia are facing the prospect of unemployment and deportation with the Saudi government going ahead with its job nationalisation drive, called Nitaqat.
This has sent shockwaves across the tiny south Indian state of Kerala, which has more than half-a-million of its people working in Saudi Arabia.
The Saudi authorities are cracking down on companies that have failed to achieve a job nationalisation target, the deadline for which passed last Wednesday.
Law enforcement officials have reportedly booked a large number of expatriates for violating the residency law over the past week and many more are expected to be declared illegal residents.
The labour ministry has identified about 250,000 small and medium-sized enterprises that have failed to comply with the Nitaqat provision of employing at least one Saudi national in the ‘red’ category. The deadline for complying with the provision passed on March 27, said a report carried by Khaleej Times yesterday.
According to Nitaqat provisions, the ministry will not renew work permits of employees in the ‘red’ category. This means they will have to leave the country. The Saudi cabinet has already passed a law to arrest and deport such workers.
According to Saudi newspapers, about two million expatriates are likely to lose their jobs as a direct result of implementation of the Nitaqat policy. The workers are mainly from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, the Philippines, Egypt, Yemen, and Indonesia.
Indians constitute the largest chunk of expatriates in Saudi Arabia, and among them Keralites are the largest group. According to a recent study by Kerala-based Centre for Development Studies, the number of Keralites in Saudi Arabia in 2011 was 574,739, said the daily. Nitaqat will hit Keralites the hardest as a substantial number of them are working in small and medium-sized enterprises. The majority of Keralites in Saudi Arabia are from the northern Malabar region of the state, said the report.
Kerala yesterday urged the Indian government to intervene in the matter so that Saudi Arabia takes a liberal approach to implementing the Nitaqat policy.
The new policy might lead to denial of job opportunities to a large number of expatriates from India, especially from Kerala, Chief Minister Oommen Chandy said in a letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
“It has come to my notice that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has initiated strong steps to implement the Nitaqat law to expand employment avenues for its nationals, which may ultimately lead to the denial of job opportunities for expatriates,” he said.
Conceding that there were limits to Indian intervention in internal policy decisions of Saudi Arabia, Chandy said: “but an appeal to the Saudi Arabian authorities to give more time for the implementation of Nitaqat may give breathing space for the expatriates and avoid immediate repercussions.”
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