More than 10,000 illegal foreigners in detention in Saudi Arabia are in limbo after authorities suddenly declared only those deemed to be working illegally prior to its amnesty last year are eligible for deportation, local media has reported.
Saudi authorities made the announcement amid demands to be sent home by thousands of foreign workers who lost their jobs between April 6 and November 3, during the kingdom’s seven-month grace period.
Many who were unable to legalise their status or fund their trip home during the amnesty joined public protests and waited outside their respective country’s consular offices in the hope of being arrested and then deported, according to Arab News.
Others were declared absconders by their sponsors during the amnesty in a move to avoid penalties for using illegal workers.
The “absconder” status has made it difficult for many to obtain an exit visa required by Saudi authorities to leave the country.
There are now 10,148 expatriates – including 2983 women - being held at the Shumaisy deportation centre, in between the western cities of Jeddah and Makkah, according to Makkah Police Department spokesman Colonel Badr Al Saud.
Majority of the detained workers come from Pakistan, Indonesia, Bangladeshi and the Philippines.
More than 1m expatriates left the kingdom during the amnesty period, while hundreds of thousands of others were forcibly deported.
The governments of some labour source countries provided dedicated flights to assist their citizens to return home.
Economists say the exodus of expat workers – which make up one-third of the kingdom’s 28m population – is having a negative effect on the kingdom’s gross domestic product as business struggle to cope with the sudden loss of labour.