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Over 18,000 Indians have approached the Indian embassy in Riyadh seeking an 'Emergency Certificate' to leave Saudi Arabia amid concerns about possible job losses due to implementation of a new labour law "Nitaqat" that seeks to reserve 10% jobs for locals.
The Indian workers have applied for the issuance of Emergency Certificate (EC) to leave the country as they had given their passports to their job sponsors.
Over 18,000 applications for issuing 'Emergency Certificates' to return to India have been received till May 2, Overseas Indian Affairs Minister Vayalar Ravi said in a written reply to a question in Lok Sabha.
The 'Nitaqat' law makes it mandatory for local companies to hire one Saudi national for every 10 migrant workers. There has been widespread perception that the new policy will lead to denial of job opportunities for a large number of Indians working there.
Over two million Indians are currently working in Saudi Arabia. The Saudi government was implementing the Nitaqat law to cut unemployment in the country.
Ravi said as per the Indian Mission in Riyadh, the increase in the number of applications seeking EC was due to Saudi authorities' campaign against foreign workers staying in the country without fulfilling laid down conditions and not due to Nitaqat.
"This drive affects not only illegal workers from India, but also from all countries from where immigrant workers have come to Saudi Arabia," he said.
A delegation led by Ravi had visited the Gulf nation two weeks back during which it expressed India's concern about the Nitaqat law.
During the talks, both the sides had agreed to set up a joint working group to address "all immediate problems" facing the Indian community including issues related to overstaying Indian workers and the new labour law.
Ravi said the Government has waived the fee of SAR 7 (USD 1.86) for contribution to the Indian Community Welfare Fund by those who applied for EC and even asked the mission to bear the processing cost of SAR 40 (USD 10.64) per application.
He said government has asked the mission to provide temporary accommodation and food to the needy Indians in Saudi Arabia.
More than 200,000 foreigners have been deported from the country over the past few months as part of labour market reforms aimed at putting more Saudi nationals into private sector jobs, where they now make up only a tenth of the workforce.
Replying to a separate question, Ravi said Kuwaiti authorities had arrested 2,000 Indians in September last year for alleged violation of visa norms and after verification of records around 1,750 were released while the rest were deported.