Approximately 30 percent of the job visas issued in the Kingdom ends up in the black market, according to a Saudi economist.
“The expatriates who buy those visas pose a serious threat not only to the Kingdom’s economy but also to the security and the social life in the Kingdom,” Fadl Al-Buaynain said in statement to the Madinah daily.
The more than 2 million holders of black market visas, which are also known as “free” visas among the expatriate community because its holder is free to accept or refuse any job unlike proper visas, drastically reduce any opportunity for fair competition for the unemployed Saudis in job market, Al-Buaynain said.
Labor Minister Adel Fakeih said in a recent statement that the ministry has been studying whether putting visa traders behind bars would eliminate the visa trade. The minister hoped that the Nitaqat program would be instrumental in ending 99 percent of the illegal trade in visas. He added that the private sector employed more than 6.5 million expatriate workers accounting for 90 percent of the total workforce while the 1 million Saudi workers in the sector accounted for only 10 percent. The situation resulted in a spiral in the unemployment rate of Saudis.
The minister’s statement of throwing the visa traders to jail has triggered debates in the job market as some people doubt the ability of the limited potentials of the ministry to rein in the huge trade while some others view that the ministry will have to face a number of social issues as the trade is the bread winner for many citizens.
A third view is that unless the swift steps are taken to root out the menace the rate of unemployment will increase and pressure will mount on utilities in addition to a hike in the foreign remittance, which is currently estimated at more than SR100 billion annually.
The minister did not say when the recommendation of the study would be implemented.
“Besides dominating the retail sector, the illegal visa buyers cause a huge drain on budgets of many developmental projects because locally recruited expatriate workers are mostly not skilled and inexperienced to undertake works related to most projects and waste a remarkable portion of project investments,” Al-Buaynain said, adding that but for the illegal presence of these workers the (Saudi) unemployment rate would not have reached the present frightening proportions.
“The footloose workers also pose a threat to the country’s security. Their low income motivates them to earn money through antisocial means such as drug trafficking, brewing and selling hooch, circulating forged currencies or serve as agents of illegal money transfer and money laundering operations,” he said.
Al-Buaynain also blamed visa traders for tarnishing the Kingdom’s image abroad by committing violations of international labor regulations.
He added that the visa trade thrives due to the collusion of some citizens, especially when the trade serves as a source of income.
He said the trade should be stopped at the source, which is the Ministry of Labor, and also in collaboration with the Ministry of Interior, which is responsible to track down the illegal traders. Focus also should be put on the Ministry of Commerce and Industry, which is responsible for uncovering commercial coverup operations.
There are two types of visa trades. One is not very profitable since it involves only citizens obtaining one or two visas and selling them. The other type involves individuals obtaining hundreds of visas and trading them.
The punishments meted out to those who were involved in visa trade in the past were fines and denial to issue any more recruitment visas.
The trade is very old and common and the efforts to check it has been ineffective mostly because both private individuals and companies found it as an easy way to get workers without going through the time consuming formalities to recruit a foreign worker.