No freebies: Bahrain plans to tackle black market of 'free visas'

Published April 26th, 2015 - 05:55 GMT

 A study is being carried out to assess the feasibility of legalising the status of tens of thousands of foreign nationals working illegally in Bahrain, said a report.

They are referred to as 'free visa' workers and often take up jobs as labourers, cleaners and housemaids for very low pay.

The small and medium enterprises (SMEs) committee, in the Bahrain Chamber of Commerce and Industry, hopes to tackle the growing problem by creating an official body that would issue 'temporary' visas to such workers.

This would also create a sector for part-time employment, said SMEs committee vice-chairman Hamed Fakhro.

The feasibility study, which is being conducted by the committee and the Bahrain Centre for Strategic, International and Energy Studies (Derasat), is expected to be completed within a month.

"Our efforts are to try to find a solution to the black market of free visas in the country," Fakhro told the Gulf Daily News, our sister publication.

"The SMEs committee will co-ordinate with Derasat in conducting the study which will be completed within a month," he stated.

"The report will be further analysed by the SMEs committee and later presented to the Industry and Commerce Ministry, Labour Market Regulatory Authority (LMRA) and the Nationality, Passports and Residence Affairs to see how it works with them," he added.

Fakhro said the 'free visa' racket was growing despite a government clampdown.

"Government agencies are trying to fight this situation by tracking and prosecuting these people, but the problem persists. There are many people, including businessmen, doing this so the demand for free visas is always going to be there," he pointed out.

"As we learn they are paying from abroad between BD1,200 and BD1,700 ($3164 to $4481) to get a visa, which means it is a lot of money for the people involved," he noted.

"The clamps and the fines aren't heavy enough because even when people involved pay fines they still make a profit," he added.

According to him, the study will look into competing with this black market and on how to do it.

"Today it is illegal, so why not look into the possibilities of having an avenue to have this sale legalised? Like an agent, who could legally get visas and bring in employees and hire them out on daily, weekly or monthly basis at nominal fee," he noted.

Fakhro pointed out that legalising this section of the workforce would ensure accountability.

"Instead of letting strangers into the houses and later complaining about their bad jobs and incidents like theft, we can have someone accountable helping us out," he said.

"We can also wipe out this modern-day slavery system and overall we can attempt to clean up the system as a whole," he added.

Fakhro said: "For smaller projects like repair works in a house, instead of hiring a contractor, we could hire these men for smaller durations at lower costs legally instead of resorting to the open black market."

"They will be slightly more expensive as they have company overheads to pay and are bound to provide proper accommodation, food and salaries for the men they hire," he added.

More than 60,000 foreign nationals are working illegally in Bahrain, according to latest LMRA figures, with many having illegally bought employment permits to get into the country before accepting whatever job they can find upon arrival.

Citizens and residents alike take advantage of this cheap labour, a practice Labour Minister and LMRA chairman Jameel Humaidan wants to stop once and for all, the GDN earlier reported.

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