MANILA, Philippines-The 90-day grace period granted by His Highness King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia for all ‘illegal’ migrant workers, including the estimated 22,000 undocumented OFWs, in the Kingdom will be ending July 3, barely 16 days to go.
This prompted the Filipino migrant rights group MIGRANTE to call on the PH government to prepare for contingencies in case the Saudi govt. would not grant an extension to its self-imposed 90-day grace period giving the nearly 2 million ‘illegal’ migrant workers to fix their documentation, and thereby leave the Kingdom or transfer to other sponsors as allowed by Saudi authorities.
“An extension to the 90-day grace period remains uncertain, though it is possible. Only His Highness King Abdullah could grant an extension by issuing a royal decree ordering the concerned Saudi authorities,” said MIGRANTE vice chairperson John Leonard Monterona, also the group’s coordinator in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA).
On-mid April, Saudi authorities led by its labor ministry stage a massive crackdown of all ‘illegal’ migrants in the Kingdom in compliance to the mandate of Saudi’s Nitaqat law that prioritizes the employment of Saudi nationals over expatriate workers, thus it is imperative that it need to get rid the country from overstaying or ‘illegal’ migrants who are employed by companies in Red and Yellow categories, which mean non-compliant to Nitaqat law.
However due to petitions and appeals from private companies and the general public, the Saudi King granted a 90-day grace period weeks after the start of the massive crackdown that rounded up hundreds of ‘illegal’ migrants including 30 OFWs per Migrante monitoring.
The Department of Labor and Employment (DoLE) citing reports from its labor officials in Saudi Arabia confirmed that there are 6,500 stranded OFWs in Jeddah who requested assistance for repatriation, while 3,500 in Riyadh.
On Saturday (June 15, 2013), the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said 414 OFWs were repatriated from Saudi Arabia.
On their part, Monterona said their records showed nearly 12,000 OFWs have sought govt. assistance as of January (2013), before Saudi’s massive crackdown of ‘illegal’ workers.
Monterona citing the PH govt. figure of 10,000 stranded OFWs who sought repatriation assistance since January 2013, the 414 repatriates as confirmed by the DFA from Saudi Arabia would only equate 4.14%.
“The dilemma is that with the grace period ending July 3 with only a small number of undocumented OFWs repatriated, what will happen to those who could not leave the Kingdom amid reports that Saudi authorities will out rightly resume the crackdown after July 3?” asked Monterona.
Monterona, citing news reports, said Saudi authorities hinted its resolve to impose stiffer penalties against ‘illegal’ workers who failed to leave the Kingdom and once they are caught after July 3.
“At least a year of imprisonment and a fine ranging from 12,000 to 20,000 saudi rials (roughly equivalent from P137,000 to P230,000.00, respectively) as penalties depending on the length of being an overstayer or as an ‘illegal’,” Monterona added.
The Philippine govt. through its Foreign Affairs department today said it will ask the Saudi govt. to extend the 90-day grace period for ‘illegal’ OFWs.
“After July 3 without an extension granted, the situation of the thousands undocumented and stranded OFWs in Saudi Arabia will become very complicated and problematic,” Monterona averred.
“Aside from closely following the release of stranded OFWs exit clearances with the Saudi authorities, the Aquino govt. should now prepare contingencies. We urge the concerned govt. agencies to be proactive in helping our stranded OFWs so that they could come home and reunite with their loved ones in the Philippines,” Monterona said.