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Expats nervous over Labour crackdown

Saudi expats apprehensive over new labour law

The aim is to close a loophole allowing companies to get around strict new quotas that determine how many Saudis they employ.


April 8, 2013 9:43 by

Like many expatriates in Saudi Arabia, Umm Hajar, a 30-year-old Moroccan beautician, stopped going to work two weeks ago fearful of government inspectors checking her residency status.

She has lived in the capital Riyadh with her Egyptian husband for two years, but while they both have residence permits, they are in breach of official regulations because they are not sponsored by their employers.

“I don’t want a policeman to cut up my papers,” said Umm Hajar, one of more than eight million foreigners in the conservative kingdom’s estimated 27 million total population.

“I just want to stay with my husband.”

A mood of apprehension has engulfed many expatriates in labour-importing Saudi Arabia, the world’s top oil exporter, following a government crackdown in March on residents who are not properly registered.

On Saturday King Abdullah announced a three-month amnesty to give foreigners a chance to sort out their papers.

But, with affected workers staying at home to avoid spot inspections, the kingdom’s cities are rife with stories of businesses being unable to open.

Under Saudi law, all foreign residents must be sponsored by a Saudi company or individual, who is named on their residency card, known as an iqama.


Now the government has started to enforce a long-disregarded rule that expatriates can work only for their sponsor. The aim is to close a loophole allowing companies to get around strict new quotas that determine how many Saudis they employ.

Riyadh is determined to tackle unemployment by getting more Saudis into private sector jobs where, according to 2011 figures, they only accounted for a tenth of the workforce.

However, Saudis often expect higher pay than expatriates, are harder to fire under local labour laws, and in some cases are not qualified for the jobs on offer or deem them as menial.

As a result, the kingdom has a massive black market for expatriate labour, in which foreign workers are nominally registered to one sponsor but actually work for another.

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