Update: The Ministry of Labor recently released brochures explaining the legalization process. The guidelines, targeted at both employers and workers, are available in several languages:
[Source: Saudi Gazette]
Prior to May 10, only migrants who violated sponsorship laws could correct their status without penalty. Alongside sending-countries, Migrant Rights urged Saudi to extend a full amnesty to all undocumented migrant workers, including those on expired visas.
The grace period announced last week includes a number of provisions that allow migrant workers to correct their status or pursue repatriation. According to the Ministry of Labor:
After July 3, both employers and undocumented workers may face imprisonment and fines.
The Nepali mission has already started to process the return of illegal migrants. They are receiving applications from workers who no longer have their passport. Migrants can receive travel documents from the embassy without charge. Approximately 70,000 Nepalis are expected to pursue amnesty.
The Philippines government may already be seeking to extend the grace period in order to complete the repatriation of all workers. The embassy estimates 20,000 undocumented Filipinos will pursue amnesty.
An estimated 10,000 undocumented Sri Lankans will also benefit from the amnesty. The Sri Lankan embassy has requested Sri Lankans register with the Saudi Immigration And Emigration Department to obtain an exit visa.
Bangladeshi officials estimate anywhere between 200,000 to 400,000 expats may take advantage of the amnesty.
Amnesty programs are not perfect; for example, they generally fail to correct cases in which migrant workers became illegal because of employer misconduct (though by permitting undocumented workers to become legalized without the personal documents or the consent of former employers, Saudi’s grace period is much more agreeable to this point). Additionally, information regarding the programs are not alway uniformly implemented either by host country offices or sending embassies. Awareness of the programs may not always reach workers in remote areas, particularly domestic workers who may be confined in their sponsor’s homes as well as herders in remote locations.
However, general amnesties can help migrants who want to return home or transfer sponsorship, but cannot risk prolonged detainment or financial penalties. They especially comprise a positive alternative to the raids which remain ongoing in neighboring Gulf states, in particular Kuwait and the UAE. Kuwait has indicated it is considering an a similar amnesty scheme for undocumented workers and may even extend visas to some workers. Migrant Rights urges all Gulf states to adopt similar mechanisms to facilitate the safe legalization and repatriation of undocumented migrant workers. Such schemes represent significant progress in aligning the rights of migrants with international standards that proscribe mass detainment and deportation.