Saudi’s smart move on illegal immigrants

Abdulrahman al-Rashed
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To say it was a fair move is the least that can be said.

The decision taken against those who violated Saudi Arabia’s residency regulations has been in the spotlight. The government had begun deporting illegal immigrants, but then King Abdullah intervened and granted the following: the temporary suspension of deportation and allowing them to correct their situation in line with a new, fairer system.

The exact number of those who violated residency regulations is unknown. I do not think that anyone knows the accurate number of those who do not carry legal residencies and work illegally. Experts estimate that their number is 6 million, and perhaps even more, and that they come from all over the world.

On one hand, the sudden announcement of the decision to suspend deportation and grant foreigners a chance to correct their situation is an act of humane justice as well as a legal necessity. Most of these foreigners came to Saudi Arabia to work, and the country continuously needs their services. Thus, the need for them is certain as their activity has been ongoing despite its illegality.


Not an easy exit

On another hand, deportation is not an easy solution. In order to find illegal residents and deport them, the government's current capabilities may not be enough unless the government decides to use the assistance of the entire armed forces. This task will pressure the state's different apparatuses. We are talking about arresting millions of people, checking their residencies, gathering them and keeping them in camps bigger than the Syrian refugees' camps! Deporting them will require fleets of aircrafts, and even two years will not be enough to finish their deportation. Above all that, employment offices across the world will be busy finding more professional and unprofessional people to go to Saudi Arabia to replace those who were deported. And thus we are back to square one.

The king's decision is therefore a wise one. Its positive repercussions are far more than having people occupying jobs. No one knows the addresses and activities of most of these millions whom were about to be deported. The state cannot properly make plans when all required data is not available. Some data cannot be ignored when planning for work, services, security and safety. It is thus not possible to plan without knowing their numbers and details since any civilized society bases its work upon solid information and not only estimated ones.

The presence of 6 million illegal foreign workers is proof of the failure of a system which is misused and which burdens both the employee and the citizen.

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

One must admit that plenty of mistakes have been previously committed and that they have led to chaos and the terrible piling up of millions. It is certain that tolerance and objectivity to allow all illegal residents to return and work as per a system protects both: the employee and the society. The decisions allow illegal residents to return to work and choose any job they want in any house or factory as long as there is a need for them.

There are no longer employees who are forced to do a job they hate or work at a house where they are uncomfortable with its people. There will be no scarcity as well in the labor market. The justifications for complaints are over. The Labor Ministry now has the right to impose fees as it sees necessary against new foreign employees as long as there is an excess of millions of laborers inside Saudi whom contracts can be signed with. This step will end the state of chaos. We now expect organizational steps to prevent repeating these mistakes. An example of these steps is raising wages so the employee does not find a justification to escape in search for a better salary and end up having employing Saudi citizens useful and competitive.

Employment and labor companies must be established as well to replace the labor brokers who corrupted and destroyed the market. The failed system of guarantors over foreign workers must be cancelled as well. The presence of 6 million illegal foreign workers is proof of the failure of this system which is misused and which burdens both the employee and the citizen. The system of specialized companies ends the problem of responsibility and protects all parties, including the government. It thus establishes parties that are responsible and parties that hold others accountable.

This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on May 13, 2013.

Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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