Saudi worker exodus will hit projects, commerce chamber warns

20 June 2013

There have been warnings of serious project delays in Saudi Arabia caused by the exodus of tens of thousands of labourers as a three-month amnesty for illegal workers draws to a close.

Earlier this year Saudi Arabia gave foreign workers three months to obtain either a proper work visa or correct travel documents to leave the country – or face fines and prison.

The amnesty ends on 3 July, and as many as 450,000 workers may be affected, according to one senior industry figure.

Passport authorities have agreed to accept the travel documents so that illegal expats won’t be prosecuted.

Most construction labour in Saudi Arabia is carried out by foreign workers, predominantly from Asia.

One industry figure in the kingdom has warned that construction could be in for a major setback with delays to project completions caused by the sudden labour drain.

Construction project in Mecca, Saudi Arabia (Omar Chatriwala/Al Jazeera English/Wikimedia)

Vice chairman of the Contractors Committee in the Jeddah Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Raed Al-Aqeeli, told Arab News that up to 80% of all construction projects could be affected by the departure of so many workers.

"With only a few days remaining for the amnesty period to end, we still can’t see the government apparatus gearing up to accommodate and clear the large numbers of paperwork and transactions which are estimated at 450,000," he said.

Local media have reported expectations of an exodus to start this Saturday as many try to flee the country before the deadline.

But others disagree. Fahad Al-Said, CEO of Al Akaria Real Estate Co., told Arab News that fears about projects getting delayed are exaggerated, and that a slowdown in building would occur anyway due to Ramadan and the summer heat.

Meanwhile, Bangladesh’s foreign minister Dipu Moni is currently in Saudi Arabia and has appealed to the Saudi government to extend the amnesty period beyond 3 July to allow Bangladeshi workers more time to rectify their status.

A delegation of business people in Jeddah also called for a deadline extension this week in a meeting with Saudi Labour Ministry officials.

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