Economy

India seeks Saudi exit visas for laid-off workers

Nayanima Basu New Delhi | Updated on January 17, 2018

Employers have shut shop and scooted





India has asked the Saudi government to grant exit visas to about 10,000 Indians so that they can be brought back to India even as they have been laid off by their employers and left to fend for themselves.

Minister of State for External Affairs MJ Akbar is learnt to have sought Saudi assistance in arranging exit visas for all Indian workers who wish to be repatriated, according to sources in the MEA.

The Saudi government has not yet responded to India’s request although they have said that they will “cooperate” because, as per the law there, which is called the Kafala system, a migrant worker cannot leave the country without a no-objection certificate (NOC) from the employer.

NOCs difficult

External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj told the Lok Sabha on Monday that it would be difficult to obtain NOCs because the employers have shut shop and left the country.

However, despite job loss and poor living conditions, a majority of the Indian workers who are stranded and living in camps are not willing to leave Saudi Arabia.

“The situation is a fluid and dynamic one. Not all are keen to come back even though the government is planning for their repatriation,” said a senior official.

The official said the “real picture” will emerge only when the Minister of State for External Affairs VK Singh reaches Jeddah for a first-hand assessment of the situation.

Sources said the government was liaising with the Saudi authorities to ensure that unpaid dues of all Indian workers are lodged and processed in accordance with the law.

According to the Ministry, about 10,000 Indian workers have been affected by the economic slowdown in the Gulf. The impact, however, varies from one company to another.

Out of this, 2,450 Indian workers belonging to the Saudi Oger Company are housed in five camps in Jeddah, Mecca and Taif. Since July 25, the company had stopped providing meals to the workers besides defaulting on their salaries.

Food assistance

These workers have been the worst hit. Sushma Swaraj has also asked the Embassy in Riyadh and Consulate in Jeddah to provide food assistance to them. Accordingly, our Consulate in Jeddah, with assistance from the Indian community, has been providing rations for the 2,450 Indian workers which should be sufficient for the next eight to 10 days, sources said.

Another 3,172 Indian workers in Riyadh have not been paid their salary dues for months but are getting regular rations.

“The number of Indian workers facing food crisis in Saudi Arabia is over 10,000. While the situation in Kuwait is manageable, matters are much worse in Saudi Arabia,” Swaraj said.

There are 3 million Indians working in Saudi Arabia, at present.

Impact on bilateral trade

At the moment, Indian workers’ crisis in Jeddah is not likely to impact trade and investments, but if the situation escalates and more workers are forced to return home, the country’s project exports could get affected, a Commerce Ministry official said.

“There are a number of Indians executing projects in Saudi Arabia. If the workers’ problem continues, the cost of projects could go up,” he said.

India’s exports to Saudi Arabia in 2015-16 were at $ 6.39 billion, which was about 2.5 per cent of its total exports.

With inputs from Amiti Sen

Published on August 01, 2016

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