Thousands of stranded workers apply to leave Oman under amnesty

More than 41,000 expatriates take advantage of fine-waiver scheme as Oman revises labour laws

Photo taken in Muscat, Oman
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Nearly 42,000 expatriate workers applied to leave Oman under a government amnesty scheme that got under way on November 15 and runs until the end of December, according to data published by the Ministry of Labour on Sunday.

Only 7,500 foreign workers registered in the first 15 days for a waiver to leave the country without having to pay fines for issues such as expired work permits.

Ministry of Labour statistics show that more than 39,400 of those who applied for the exit waiver entered Oman on work visas. The rest entered on either visit, family or student visas. Nearly 400 undocumented workers also applied for amnesty under the scheme.

According to figures released by the state-run National Centre for Statistics and Information at the end of November, 277,728 more people left Oman this year than during the same period last year. Presently, Oman has 1.4 million expatriates compared with 1.7 million at the end of last year.

The NCSI statistics also showed about 60 per cent of the expatriates who left Oman worked in the construction sector, an area hit hard by the economic slowdown. Most of them are from Pakistan, India and Bangladesh.

Oman announced a deficit of 2.8 billion rials ($7bn) for the year and ruler Sultan Haitham recently announced measures to boost government income, including value added tax  expected to start in the second quarter of next year.

The recent relaxation of fines for workers with expired visas is part of Oman's drive to create a more flexible labour market and ease travel restrictions for foreigners wanting to work in the country.

These reforms were announced at the annual Manama Dialogue conference in Bahrain last month, where Foreign Minister Sayyid Badr Al Busaidi announced that Oman would abolish the no-objection-certificate system. The move would allow workers to switch jobs, starting in January.

"We have plans to extend visa-free arrival for up to 30 days for citizens of more than 100 countries," he said.
"These measures are part of a broader package of economic measures, conceived together in Oman's Vision 2040 and fiscal policy, which will also involve the introduction of new taxation and an end to some long-standing subsidies."

Oman will also allow visa-free stays of up to 30 days for people from 100 countries in an attempt to boost tourism.