Saudi Arabia’s renewed effort to substantially raise the representation of its nationals in the country’s work force may cost nearly three lakh Keralites their jobs.
As the deadline to employers to absorb more Saudi workers under the government’s “nitaqat” programme (which stipulates creation of more jobs for Saudis by replacing foreign workers) ended on March 27, the authorities began cracking down on expatriates who have been illegally staying in the gulf country. This will severely affect those who work on “free visa” (working without sponsors).
Though Indian Overseas Affairs Minister Vayalar Ravi says that it is too early to say how many Keralites will be affected, the manpower exporting agencies in the state estimate that at least three lakh Keralites may lose their jobs as a result of the Saudi policy and of them nearly one lakh will be from Malappuram district alone.
Under the nitaqat programme, one out of every 10 workers employed by an employer in the oil-rich nation will be a Saudi national. Failure to comply with this order would mean the employer losing his licence to do business in the country and work permits of workers under him will not be renewed. The work permit is mandatory for obtaining a residential permit (iqama).
Sources say that over 10 per cent of the expatriates returning home after losing their jobs in Saudi Arabia are Keralites. This massive exodus to Kerala will badly hit its economy which is heavily dependent on remittances from the Gulf. On an average, Rs 45,000 crore is sent through official channgels by Gulf Malayalees to the state annually, which is one and half times higher than the state’s budget. Nearly Rs 30,000 crore reaches the state through havala route.
Worried over the situation, Chief Minister Oommen Chandy has urged Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to intervene immediately and put pressure on Riyadh to slow down the process.
Allaying the fear, however, Ravi said his ministry was trying to find an option to rehabilitate the Indians losing their jobs in Saudi itself.
He admitted that Riyadh’s new labour policy was a major issue in India. “It’s a serious issue that will affect not only India but also other countries. Yesterday I spoke to the Indian ambassador in Saudi Arabia and has asked him to keep me informed on all the developments,” he said.
According to the annual report of the Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs, Saudi Arabia continues to be the desired destination among low and semi-skilled workers from India, attracting 2,89,297 people in 2011.