Illegal OFWs to miss Saudi’s amnesty deadline

The 3-month grace period for illegal workers in Saudi to clarify their status will end on July 3

CAMP SITE. Overseas Filipino workers set up camp outside the Philippine Embassy in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Photo by Migrante-Jeddah.

MANILA, Philippines – The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) disclosed on Monday, June 17, that the Philippine embassy in Riyadh and the consulate in Jeddah will not likely finish processing the amnesty applications of many undocumented Filipino workers in time for the deadline set by the host country.

DFA Spokesman Raul Hernandez said the embassies of other countries are presumably having difficulties too in meeting the July 3 deadline set by the Saudi government.

Hernandez said that the Saudi government is aware of the situation and they are “keen on improving their procedures.”

“Consultations between the Saudi government and our side are ongoing and we hope to find a mutually acceptable solution soon,” Hernandez said.

In April, Saudi Arabia King Abdulla ordered a 3-month grace period for ‘illegal’ workers “in breach of the labor and residency regulations in the kingdom to clarify their status.”

In a report, Badr Malek, spokesman for the passports department in Saudi Arabia, stressed that violators of immigration rules will face penalties when the amnesty period ends, with punishment including imprisonment up to two years, and fines up to 100,000 riyals ($27,000).

Hernandez added that it is “accurate to assume” that other labor-sending countries are also facing the same predicament.

Extension uncertain

Filipino migrant group Migrante urged the Philippine government to prepare for contingencies in case an extension to Saudi’s grace period would not be granted. 

In a press release, Migrante vice chairperson John Leonard Monterona said the extension is “uncertain but possible.”

Monterona said “the government’s 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 to 4.14%.”

But Hernandez said the Philippine embassy and consulate in Saudi have been providing “all appropriate assistance to undocumented Filipinos in Saudi Arabia, particularly passport and travel document processing, endorsement to Saudi government agencies and repatriation.”

“The embassy and consulate have so far completed over 30,000 consular-related transactions. These include return of surrendered passports, renewal, validity extension and replacement of old passports, and issuance of travel documents,” Hernandez said.

Hernandez added that embassy staff members were also detailed at the airport in Riyadh to assist undocumented Filipinos.

Hernandez said the remaining 139 Filipino campers in Jeddah, together with the 202 individuals seeking shelter at the consulate and the 4 remaining campers in the embassy in Riyadh have been “consistently being provided with basic necessities as well as consular services.”

“Our diplomatic initiatives remain in full swing. Our embassy and consulate officials meet with concerned Saudi government officials on a weekly basis to discuss the ongoing repatriation and regularization process and the concerns of our citizens,” Hernandez said. – Rappler.com

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