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Thousands queue to exit Saudi Arabia

Workers - illustrative purposes only

Illegal workers take advantage of three-month grace period to exit the kingdom.

May 29, 2013 2:14 by

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is in the middle of a foreign-worker exodus, with tens of thousands of workers having already left the country in the past two months. Since early April – when the kingdom announced a three-month grace period to exit without bearing the burden of a fine or fees – 124,000 illegal employees have chosen to return home.

Earlier this week, thousands continue to queue outside the main passport office in Riyadh to secure exit visas – with many being forced to wait in line for over 24 hours. Officials have said if expatriates leave within the grace period, they will be allowed to apply for another visa to work in the kingdom.

The city is in the middle of a sweeping labour reform aimed at tackling domestic unemployment by pushing companies to hire more Saudi nationals – a task that hasn’t proven to be easy.

A report by Reuters suggests that the disproportion of foreigners in jobs – a trend that is common across other gulf countries as well – potentially stems from the fact that Saudi nationals demand higher wages and many private firms, particularly in fields involving manual labour, are finding it difficult to attract them.

With a foreign population of approximately nine million and a total of 28 million residents, Saudi nationals hold approximately one in 10 private sector jobs.

While economists in the kingdom have not yet deduced the economic impact of this foreign mass departure; signs of delay in construction and road works due to a shortage of workers may be a sign of things to come.

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