New Delhi, July 4 (IANS) As 92,000 Indians in Saudi Arabia have been given Emergency Certificates to enable them return home over the kingdom's Nitaqat work policy, very few of them are actually leaving. Most are using an extended grace period announced by Saudi Arabia to regularize their stay and switch jobs.
According to Indian Ambassador Hamid Ali Rao, the new grace period ends Nov 3 after which the kingdom would become very strict in implementing the Nitaqat. Those overstaying or on invalid work permits would face arrest, huge fines and deportation with a ban on their return.
Under Nitaqat or naturalization programme, private sector companies in Saudi Arabia are mandated to employ a certain percentage of locals.In fact, said Rao, the number of Indians has grown by 10,000 since March this year - from 2.88 million to 2.89 million, as on June 30, making Saudi Arabia among the countries with the largest number of Indian, the "preferred expatriate community" in the country. .
The Indian embassy has tried to reach out to thousands of Indians through social media, 24X7 help desks, volunteers, the vernacular media and mobile units posted at exit visa offices to help Indians check their status and rectify it if required.
Fanning across to cities, towns and even remote villages in Saudi Arabia, volunteers working with the embassy managed to contact Indians staying for long years in villages in the kingdom, asking them to check their work status and correct it ahead of the deadline.
More than 200 companies had approached the embassy offering jobs for Indians, and a job fair was also organized in collaboration with the Riyadh Chamber of Commerce.
Over 600 volunteers, including the teaching and non-teaching staff of Indian schools, chipped in to help - for free, manning helpline desks, translating into vernacular languages embassy notices, and helping the affected Indians by explaining to them the circumstances, said the envoy.
"It was unity in diversity in its truest sense - we all worked as a team..There were volunteers from Kerala trying to explain in broken Hindi the implications of the Nitaqat to affected workers, volunteers distributing snacks and water,' said Rao,
According to the envoy, the implementation of the Nitaqat will help in streamlining the labour policy of the Saudi government. "Those who work will not come through contractors, they will get their salaries through net transfers, which will eliminate middlemen," he said.
Asked how many of the 92,000 Indians given Emergency Certificates had returned to India, Rao said he did not have the figures.
According to the Saudi labour ministry, 3.5 million workers have corrected their status since May 10. Of this, around 25-30 percent comprise Indians, or 80,000.
The Indian government had been in touch with the Saudi authorities ever since it announced implementation of the work policy in March. External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid had visited Riyadh in May, the first visit by an Indian foreign minister in the last five years. Before that a high level Indian delegation, led by Overseas Indian Affairs Minister Vayalar Ravi visited the kingdom to discuss the issue with the Saudi labour ministry.
Rao feels the Nitaqat programme would in the long run prove beneficial by flushing out all illegal workers and pave the way for additional inflow of Indian workers, who are by far the "preferred expatriate community".
The remittances by Indians from Saudi Arabia in 2012 was $8.8 billion.