Nitaqat: Though Indians worried, Delhi takes Saudi law positively

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By Atif Jaleel, India Tomorrow,

New Delhi, 15 Dec 2013: The Non-resident Keralites Affairs Department (NoRKA) of Kerala government has suspended its free air ticket programme on 30 November for Keralites stranded in Saudi Arabia without means to afford the air-fare home.

With Kerala facing the most number of returnees from Saudi Arabia due to the implementation of the Nitaqat law, about 100 people returning per day, the Kerala government had said that it would provide free air tickets through NoRKA. It has now officially stopped the programme.

In an interview with Times of India English daily, NoRKA minister K. C. Joseph giving an explanation to the closure of the scheme said, “We have decided to end the free ticket scheme as there are not many takers. We received 134 applications since November 6, which were vetted by three committees. However, 23 people cancelled their tickets and stayed on.”

The recent implementation of the Nitaqat law which replaced the old “Saudi-zation” policy by the Saudi Arabian government and the subsequent raids on expatriate communities has left many Indians worried for their future.

Saudi Arabia has a high rate of unemployment at 10.8% with more than 40% unemployment rate among high school graduates. To battle this, the government introduced a new labour policy called the Nitaqat law. According to this law, companies and business outlets will have to reserve 10% jobs for Saudi nationals.

The Saudi government had moved the deadline of the Nitaqat law forward from 3rd November to the latest deadline being 4th December for all expatriates to get their visas regularized.

The Saudi Labour Ministry figures show that the statuses of 15 lakh foreign workers, out of which are 1 lakh Indian workers, have been rectified so far.
Most Indian expatriates who plan to stay on in the Kingdom have expressed their concerns that the new laws would lead to a denial of job opportunities for many of them. Wages have already fallen for most labour workers to half of what they used to receive due to fewer jobs being available to them.

Even though the Indian government faces the most amounts of returnees with over 1.34 lakh Indians having returned so far, the government’s reaction to the Nitaqat law has been rather calm and positive. Indian Foreign Minister Salman Khurshid, in an interview with Arab News daily said “You have completely misread the situation. Saudi Arabia is implementing its domestic laws. If they have not done it in the past, then those working here were lucky. Now that this is the case, everyone needs to comply with their domestic laws.”

The Saudi government has taken a very harsh stance and has conducted several raids, arresting thousands of expatriates and have deported over 71,000 illegal workers since the labour raids started from 4th November. This has led many cities to seem deserted with most of the labour workers, in fear of being caught, deciding to stay home and shops remaining closed.

There is also a large number of 2nd generation expatriates who were born and raised in Saudi Arabia that have asked to be granted citizenship so they would not have to return to their own countries. But the citizenship policy of Saudi Arabia is very strict and very few ever get granted citizenship making their situation more aggravated.

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