Saudi gives illegal foreign workers three months' grace

RIYADH (AFP) - Saudi Arabia has given illegal foreign workers a three-month grace period to legalise their status, after panic over reported mass deportations, an official statement said.

King Abdullah ordered the interior and labour ministries to allow "workers violating the labour and residency system a maximum of three months to rectify their situation," said the statement carried by SPA state news agency.

The Saudi authorities this year imposed new labour constraints affecting millions of expatriates in the Gulf state, in a move that sparked fears of mass deportations among the immigrant workers.

Some 200,000 people, mostly Asians, have been expelled from the oil-rich kingdom in the past three months based on the new restrictions, immigration officials say.

It is unclear how many people would be affected by the new restrictions.

Saudi Arabia has eight million foreigner workers, mostly in very low-paid jobs, according to official figures.

On Tuesday, a Yemeni government official told AFP that thousands of Yemeni workers have been expelled from Saudi Arabia.

The new regulations introduced by the labour ministry aim to reduce the number of foreign workers to create jobs for millions of unemployed Saudis.

Under the new rules, foreigners are allowed to work only for their legal sponsors in the kingdom while their spouses cannot take up jobs.

Many foreigners enter Saudi Arabia under the sponsorship of a Saudi national but end up working for others, or set up their own businesses.

The labour ministry's inspections have forced tens of thousands of workers to leave their workplaces and hide at home, including many private school teachers whose absence has disrupted school classes.

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