Riyadh: Saudi Arabia will make sponsors and employers of foreigners working illegally in the country pay the cost of deporting them, under new rules approved by the cabinet, the Saudi Gazette reported on Monday.
The world's top oil exporter is cracking down on illegal expatriate workers in an effort to move more Saudi citizens into private sector jobs. Tens of thousands of people have been deported in recent months as government inspectors descended on businesses that have long bent the rules to hire foreigners, who are often paid less than Saudi nationals.
Last week Labour Minister Adel al-Fakieh said the kingdom would impose tough penalties, including jail sentences and fines, on owners of small businesses which harboured illegal workers.
The new cabinet ruling will end the government's responsibility for paying deportation costs, reported the Saudi Gazette, a major newspaper, saying it had seen an advance copy of the ruling.
Expatriates who violate labour laws, or overstay haj and umrah pilgrimage visas, will be deported and then banned from returning to Saudi Arabia, it added.
Officials in Yemen and the Indian state of Kerala, from which many of the roughly 9 million foreigners in the kingdom come, have expressed concern about the impact of deportations. Many other expatriates come from Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, the Philippines, Ethiopia and Arab countries.
Under Saudi law, all expatriate workers must be sponsored by a Saudi company or individual. Many workers then leave that employer to look for a better job elsewhere, or set up their own businesses. Some sponsors connive in violating the rules, charging expatriates whom they do not employ money to renew their visas.
The newspaper said sponsors and haj and umrah travel companies which failed to report missing workers or pilgrims would bear deportation expenses.
Pilgrims who are reported missing would have to pay their own airfares home. For workers reported missing, deportation costs would be paid by the company for which they were working or, if the workers had set up their own business, they would pay costs themselves.
Companies or individuals registering "cover-up" businesses, which are illegally owned by foreigners while ostensibly being the property of a Saudi sponsor, would be banned for five years from recruiting foreign workers.