Saudi Arabia bans deported OFWs from returning

Paterno Esmaquel II
The Philippine Embassy urges Filipinos in Saudi to 'to familiarize themselves with the new rules'

PROTESTS VS GOV'T. Outside the DFA on Nov 4, 2013, protesters urge the Philippine government to repatriate stranded, undocumented Filipino workers in Saudi Arabia amid a Saudi government crackdown against foreigners working without permits. Photo by EPA/Francis Malasig

MANILA, Philippines – Thousands of Filipinos who work in Saudi Arabia will lose their jobs – and their chance to return – once their host country deports them, the Saudi government said.

“Any deported foreigner shall be prohibited from entering the Kingdom in accordance with periods and procedures specified in regulations to be issued pursuant to a decision by the Ministry of Interior,” the Saudi government stated in its new rules.

The Philippine Embassy in Riyadh published these rules Monday, November 4, after the lapse of Saudi Arabia’s deadline for illegal workers to legalize their status.

These rules will affect thousands of illegal workers in Saudi Arabia, the country with the highest number of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs).

The Philippine government, after all, has repatriated only around 4,587 illegal workers in Saudi Arabia. That is only 49% of the 9,000 Filipinos who originally sought repatriation.

The Commission on Filipinos Overseas pegs the number of irregular workers in Saudi Arabia at 20,000.

Citing Philippine statistics in 2012, the International Organization for Migration says 24.4% of OFWs – the highest percentage – work in Saudi Arabia. (READ: PH migration report: Number of OFWs increasing.) 

Saudi Arabia’s new rules

The Philippine Embassy on Monday summarized the new rules as follows: 

  • “Foreign workers who work illegally for their own account, absconded from their sponsors, and overstayers will be apprehended, penalized, and deported;

  • “Those who employ illegal or absconded workers, provide cover, harbor or transport them, or ‘aid them by any means’ will also be pursued;

  • “Employers will bear the cost of deportation of illegal workers, except where the foreign worker works for himself in which case he will bear the cost of his own deportation;

  • “Illegal workers who are unable to afford the travel ticket will be deported at the cost of the Saudi government;

  • “Overstayers will deported at the expense of the employer, or, if he works for himself, the company or person who sponsored his visit will bear the cost of deportation;

  • “All companies and individual employers, including government agencies, shall ensure that their workers obtain and renew their iqamas in due time;

  • “Deported foreign workers shall be prohibited from returning to the Kingdom; and

  • “Offending foreigners will be accommodated in Saudi government centers pending deportation”

The embassy urged Filipinos in Saudi Arabia “to familiarize themselves with the new rules.”

“In the meantime, the Philippine Embassy and the consulate advises all those who have taken steps to process their final exit and repatriation to remain calm and not panic,” the embassy said.

The embassy also vowed to assist Filipinos, and listed the following 24-hour hotlines for Filipinos who need help:

  • Embassy’s Assistance to Nationals Section – 056 9893301

  • Consulate’s Assistance to Nationals Section – 055 5219613

  • Philippine Overseas Labor Office (Riyadh) – 054 5917834/050 7537997

  • Philippine Overseas Labor Office (Eastern Province) – 050 126 9742

Starting Sunday, illegal workers face up to two years in prison and fines of at least 100,000 riyal or $27,000.

Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario on Tuesday, November 5, blamed the “indecision” of illegal workers in Saudi Arabia after the Philippine government failed to repatriate them. (READ: OFWs’ indecision blamed for delayed return from Saudi.)

Del Rosario also said the Saudi government’s sluggish process worsened the problem. – Rappler.com

Paterno Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II, news editor of Rappler, specializes in covering religion and foreign affairs. He obtained his MA Journalism degree from Ateneo and later finished MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at pat.esmaquel@rappler.com.