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MENAFN - Arab News - 16/06/2013
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(MENAFN - Arab News) Asian ambassadors have strongly urged the Saudi government to extend the grace period beyond July 3 for the correction of the visa status of undocumented workers in the Kingdom, considering the large number of workers affected.

Pakistan, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Nepal and the Philippines are on the forefront and have renewed calls for an extension of the deadline.

"Bangladesh Foreign Minister Dipu Moni is scheduled to arrive in Riyadh on June 19 to request the Saudi government to extend the amnesty period for workers and give them more time to legalize their status," said a reliable source, here yesterday.

The 90-day amnesty, decreed by Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah, allows irregular foreign workers to have their status legalized or return home without facing any penalty for past violations.

"But this massive exercise to legalize the status of the remaining hundreds of thousands of workers will not be completed before the July 3 deadline," said Pakistan Ambassador Mohammed Naeem Khan, who has requested the Ministry of Labor in writing to "extend the grace period until the end of the current year." Khan said the Pakistan diplomatic missions have put in place an "extensive outreach program" to serve the irregular workers.

He said Pakistani missions have issued more than 22,000 travel documents so far. "But all of them will not go back to Pakistan " many have now found jobs or sponsors willing to hire them," said Khan, while referring to the 70 centers for workers' registration currently operational in different places the Kingdom. "About 111 companies have also been registered with the embassy to provide possible employment to Pakistanis," said the diplomat.

Asked whether the Nepalese Embassy will be able to regularize all its workers or repatriate them before the deadline, Nepalese Ambassador Udaya Raj Pandey said he had sent a written request to the Saudi side to extend the amnesty deadline until the end of this year. "The Nepalese mission has managed to issue about 30,000 travel documents including 5,000 issued by our team in Jeddah so far," he noted.

Most of them have not left the Kingdom mainly because of the procedural complications and the slow pace of processing exit visa formalities, he added. "With such huge numbers of illegal migrants, all wanting to legalize their status or leave the Kingdom without any penalty, and considering the tedious process they go through, the 90-day grace period is not enough," he said, while calling for an extension.

Referring to the growing workload at the Indonesian missions in Jeddah and Riyadh, Ambassador Gatot Abdullah Mansyur called for extending the deadline. He suggested earmarking a month or a certain period after Haj as an extension to the amnesty period.

Currently there are an estimated 1.2 million Indonesians in Saudi Arabia. There are about 600,000 Indonesian living in Jeddah alone and about 30 percent of them had invalid passports or expired visas.

Similar appeals have been made by Manila as well. John Monterona, Migrante Middle East and North Africa coordinator, said: "We join the calls by the Philippines government and other labor exporting countries to appeal King Abdullah on humanitarian grounds to provide an extension to the 90-day grace period that will end on July 3."


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