Plight of UP workers may top Khurshid's Saudi visit agenda

When External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid visits Saudi Arabia later this week, he will have to deal with a new problem concerning migrant workers from his home state Uttar Pradesh. The workers from the state are the worst-affected by the Nitaqat law and tightening of work visa norms in Saudi Arabia.

When the law came into force, it was feared that workers from Kerala, which constitute one-third of the 2.8 million Indian community in Saudi Arabia, will be the most affected. But then two ministers, Overseas India Affairs Minister Vayalar Ravi and Minister of State for External Affairs E Ahamed, visited Saudi Arabia last month to convey their concerns and a joint working group was formed.

According to data with the Indian embassy in Riyadh, about 15,000 workers from UP have applied for emergency certificates, a temporary passport sort of document that would allow them to travel back to India. Those applying for emergency certificates are those whose passports were kept by their sponsor employers and have not been returned to them after they switched jobs. In Saudi Arabia, it is illegal to switch jobs without informing the authorities and changing the sponsor of the work visa.

The Saudi authorities are cracking down on all such workers who have changed jobs (and their sponsor employers) before April 2013 and have not informed the government. Later on, they gave a three-month grace period. All Indian workers have to regularise their visa and employment by July 2, when the grace period gets over.

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