A top Saudi representative to the international labour body has suggested that expat workers who have been living in Gulf countries for 25 years or more should be granted free iqamas (work/residency permits) or permanent resident status outside the sponsorship system.
Abdullah Sadiq Dahlan, Saudi Arabia’s representative to the International Labour Organisation (ILO), proposed that the kingdom should reform its citizenship system to open up ways for long-term legal residents to seek naturalisation.
“This group of expatriates has become deeply rooted in our society and their return back to their respective countries has become a real problem for them,” Saudi daily newspaper Arab News quoted him as saying.
Dahlan also urged authorities to seek solutions for long-term foreign workers.
“We should further develop investment regulations for these foreigners in order to enable them to practice business and trade according to certain rules and without certain fees,” he told the paper.
He disclosed that foreigners working under the sponsorship of Saudis run more than half of the small establishments in the kingdom.
“We have to facilitate the process that will enable the foreigners who have stayed for a long time in the Kingdom to easily obtain Saudi nationality,” he suggested while adding that such workers should be given exemption from renewing their iqamas (work visas) every two years.
“The GCC countries and Saudi Arabia cannot dispense with foreign manpower in the foreseeable future. We will continue to need thousands of doctors, pharmacists, engineers, technicians, experts and skilled labor to meet our demand,” he told the paper.
Addressing the issue of labour abuses, Dahlan said that 20,000 to 30,000 labour disputes are reported annually in the kingdom but insisted that this was not significant number given that six million expat workers live and work in Saudi Arabia.
The top Saudi labour official also said that reforms initiated by King Abdullah had resulted in doors of employment opening up for Saudi women.
“Thousands of women are now working in the business sector,” he told the Jeddah-based newspaper.