In an unprecedented crackdown on foreign workers, figures released yesterday show that 1,131,324 expatriates have been arrested in Saudi Arabia over the past six months, mostly for alleged violations of labour and residency laws.
The crackdown, launched on 15 November last year as part of the “Nation Free of Violators” campaign, has already resulted in almost 293,000 so-called violators being deported. It is understood that almost 12,000 are currently being held in detention centres. More than 2,000 people, including 356 Saudi nationals, were apprehended for providing accommodation and transportation to illegal expatriates.
Nineteen ministries and government departments are participating in the campaign. Since its launch, the nationwide campaign has largely focused on expatriates.
Expat exodus plus
A total of 35,831 expatriates were charged with violating residency laws, 203,289 were arrested for violating labor regulations and 92,204 had border security violations. Some 16,276 people, a group largely composed of Yemenis and Ethiopians, have been arrested attempting to infiltrate the kingdom across its southern border.
As many as 161,418 violating expatriates were referred to their embassies and consulates to get travel documents. A backlog of 198,958 are currently waiting to obtain flight booking confirmations.
International Investment reported last month on the “expat exodus” from Saudi Arabia, under a regime, led by the crown prince Mohammed bin Salman, who is trying to diversify Saudi Arabia’s economy away from an almost total reliance on hydrocarbons. In so doing, he is seeking to reduce the country’s expatriate workforce (currently around 20% of the total population) and ensure more Saudis take jobs in a nascent private sector.
Saudi Arabia is not alone in turning the tide on expat workers, yet the numbers published in the Saudi Gazette this week are far higher than those from neighbouring GCC member states.