Six month amnesty will be successful

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Jul 9 2007

Amnesty 'to draw wide response' ahead of reforms
By Suad Hamada, Special to Gulf News

Manama: The amnesty for runaway expatriate workers is expected to be more successful than the one granted in 2002 which attracted around 5,000 individuals because of the government's new tough regulations, activists said yesterday.

The number of runaway and free-visa workers is estimated between 30,000 and 40,000.

Salma Bala of Migrant Worker Activist told Gulf News the six-month amnesty starting next month is expected to correct status of runaway and free-visa workers because expatriates otherwise face tougher regulations.

According to statistics, only 5,000 expatriates benefited from the 2002 amnesty by seeking deportation or local transfer. The number is expected to be much higher because new labour reforms impose several restrictions on companies hiring expatriates, such as monthly and annual fees for each non-Bahraini worker.

Opportunity

"Five years back, the labour reforms were not introduced and labour inspections on work sites were not carried out on regular basis, while [now officials from] the Ministry of Labour, security forces and the General Directorate of Nationality, Passport and Residents everyday inspect workplaces, especially construction sites as they are mainly the ones hiring free-visas workers," Salma said.

She said that companies hiring runaways could face tough penalties, especially termination of their Commercial Registers or no new work permits. "Six-month amnesty period is more than enough as many runaways eagerly wait for the period."

Salma expected that runaway workers would start correcting their illegal status after the first two months as they want to evaluate the procedures. She said that only those who want to go home urgently would turn themselves in at the beginning of the period.

She called for more awareness campaigns to inform the expatriates. "The amnesty should be highlighted in newspapers and TV channels that are popular among expatriates."

The amnesty would be supervised by the Market Reform Authority and benefit those who have been struggling to go to their countries and couldn't out of fear of penalties and fines, an official from the Labour Fund, Abdul Elaah Al Qasimi, said.

He said the illegal immigrants would be able to renew their passports, change sponsors or leave Bahrain without facing any problem. "I'm optimistic of the results as all companies want to correct their situations before the full implementation of the Labour Market Reforms Law, starting January 1."

Expatriates are awaiting the law because it would enable them to switch jobs without the approval of their sponsors if there is no condition in their contracts stopping them from leaving.

Tough penalties for errant companies

According to the labour statistics, only 5,000 expatriates benefited from the 2002 amnesty by turning themselves to the authority for deportation or processing for local transfer.

The number of runaway and free-visa workers is estimated between 30,000 and 40,000.

Companies hiring runaway workers could face tough penalties, especially termination of their Commercial Registers or no new work permits.

Advancing the rights of migrant workers throughout the Middle East