Saudi bolsters campaign against illegal expat workers with jail terms

Minister of Labour says any employer hiring illegal expatriates in the kingdom will face fines and jail sentences.

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Saudi Arabia's Minister of Labour has promised new measures to reduce the number of expatriates living and working illegally in the kingdom, including fines of up to 100,000 Saudi Riyals (Dh97,933) and two years' imprisonment.

On Saudi Arabia's MBC network, Adel Al Faqih said his ministry had hired an additional 1,000 labour inspectors to ensure that employers were in compliance with the kingdom's quotas for employing Saudi citizens. Any employer found hiring illegal foreign workers or falling below the quotas could face new penalties.

The moves are part of a push to diminish Saudi dependence on foreign labour and reduce unemployment among Saudi nationals. Officially, unemployment in the kingdom is 12 per cent but many analysts believe the true rates, particularly among youth, are far higher.

There are an estimated 7.5 million legal expatriate workers in Saudi Arabia and as many as 2 million more who are in the country without proper documentation. Mr Al Faqih said that 840,000 expatriates had left the kingdom over the past year and a half, mostly voluntarily. He added that 200,000 foreigners had recently been deported.

A crackdown on labourers sparked widespread panic when it began late last month. On April 7, Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud offered a three-month amnesty for illegal workers.

"The Royal Order came to correct the conditions of employment violation, and is a good opportunity for those who want to correct their situation, as well as an opportunity for [business] owners," Mr Faqih said, according to a transcript of the conversation on MBC's website.

*With additional reporting from Reuters