SL rep to Saudis: Extend visa over-stayers’ amnesty to illegal workers

By Leon Berenger

The Sri Lankan missions in Saudi Arabia have appealed to the local authorities to extend the amnesty granted to visa over-stayers to illegal workers as well, a senior diplomat said yesterday. Lanka’s head of mission in the port city of Jeddah, Sabaraullah Khan told the Sunday Times on the telephone that some 1,000 Sri Lankan illegal workers had already registered for a passage back home.

Mr. Khan was optimistic of a favourable response from the Saudi Government in this regard, adding that, the workers would be put on Colombo flights sometime later next week. A six-month amnesty period was declared on September 20 this year, for foreigners who have overstayed their landing permits, but stopped short of extending it to the thousands of illegal workers in the oil-rich desert kingdom.

At present, there is an estimated 500,000 Sri Lankans working and living in the Kingdom, and a sizeable number are on illegal status, Mr. Khan further said. However, he added that the problem in Saudi Arabia is limited when compared with other West Asian countries with a large Sri Lankan concentration. “This is largely due to the strict visa controls in Saudi Arabia”, he said.

He elaborated that, at present, there are hundreds of Sri Lankans, the bulk of them women, who have taken refuge at various relief centres operated by the Saudi authorities. “With the amnesty, we hope to empty these centres at the earliest, and are hopeful that the local authorities will cooperate in this regard”, he explained.

Meanwhile, a proposed ban on the recruitment of Sri Lankan female domestics has been put on hold by the Saudi Government, until further notice, he said.

The Saudi Arabia Chamber of Commerce had proposed the ban owing to conflicts over commission fees for agents, and the ongoing standoff between the Bureau of Foreign Employment and the Association of Licensed Foreign Employment Agencies (ALFEA) in Colombo.

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