Saudi Arabia’s immigration approach

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

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The worries of four million residents who weren't abiding by the residency law in Saudi Arabia have ended following a seven-month grace period after which they were granted their work permits. But no one knows how many still remain without papers, a few thousands or millions.

It's clear though that security forces are having difficulty finding them and controlling the situation. You can tell that following the first inspection campaign against illegal workers in Riyadh, where unprecedented riots erupted.

The situation has become dangerous as a result of years of accumulated legal and social chaos which resulted in the increase of illegal employment. Deporting illegal workers won't be easy. It will also not be easy to prevent thousands from entering the country through land borders stretching 4400 kilometres and shared with eight countries. There are also 2600 kilometres of sea borders part of which shared with Bahrain. It is possibly best to make the employment of illegal workers costly for the Saudi employers themselves. At the same time, the government can facilitate the process of hiring workers domestically through specialized companies and prevent the sponsors' system which brought no good to anyone. A better system is needed whereby both the rights of migrant workers and the country’s security are achieved.

The victims

Those who have lived with us and worked tirelessly should at least be granted and their families the residency right – or simply documenting a right they have enjoyed.

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

The campaign to correct illegal workers’ status is successful but it has created victims. Some were born and have lived in Saudi Arabia for decades. Many countries across the world give citizenship to people like these. Some of them have lived in Saudi Arabia for 40 years and became Saudis, though not in the legal sense of the word. We don't know how many they are, but regardless I don't think it's a big number compared with that of contemporary violators.

Those who have lived with us and worked tirelessly should at least be granted and their families the residency right – or simply documenting a right they have enjoyed. These residents deserve that their statuses be exceptionally corrected because we are confronting an issue that repeats a lot in society as citizenship becomes a fait accompli.

Let's not forget that the existence of a strong state and oil revenues are behind all of this. Without them, most Saudis may have immigrated, like their grandparents did to Iraq, Syria, Egypt and India. They may have travelled by sea, like the rest of Arabs who migrated to beyond the Atlantic, in search of a better living. Those deprived of the chance of a proper life can understand the feeling of those wanting to seek a better life.

We are witnessing a correction of citizens' and residents' status. It seems like a comprehensive project in its final stages. It began with registering all citizens and developing electronic documentation systems linked to fingerprints and granting women the right to carry identity cards. They've also begun establishing companies that will be in charge of employees' and employers' rights and that will facilitate organizing the market as per needs. The difficult mission of deporting illegal workers has begun as we witnessed a semi-street gang war in Riyadh. This complete rectification of the situation is not only required for security needs, it is also a necessity for the civil organization of the state.

This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on Nov. 11, 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.

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