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Saudi Arabia will pay costs of normalising migrants’ status

Foreign labourers work at the construction site of a building in Riyadh Foreign workers on a building site in Riyadh; thousands of migrants who have the right to work in Saudi Arabia could have their work permit fees covered for four years from the date of recognition Reuters/Faisal Al Nasser
Thousands of migrants who have the right to work in Saudi Arabia could have their work permit fees covered for four years from the date of recognition
  • State to cover work permit fees
  • ‘Amnesty’ for many illegal migrants
  • Unemployment at record low

Saudi Arabia said this week it will take on the costs of normalising the status of displaced individuals from neighbouring countries in what could amount to amnesty for thousands of illegal migrants and refugees. 

“The state assumes the costs on behalf of individuals permitted to stay and rectify their status among the displaced from neighbouring countries,” a cabinet statement said on April 2, listing the various residency and work permit fees that will be covered for a period of four years from the date of official recognition as a legal resident. 

“Additionally, the state covers all previously incurred fees mentioned earlier and previous fines related to residency regulation violations for both the individuals and their companions,” it said. 

The statement did not give an indication of how many people would be covered by the amnesty. Authorities have launched sweeping crackdowns on illegal residents in recent years as the government tries to boost Saudi employment numbers. 

Unemployment fell to a record low of 7.7 percent in the fourth quarter of 2023, and a record low among women of 13.4 percent. The 2022 census found that non-Saudis still formed 42 percent of a total 32 million population but how many of them were illegal or of migrant status was not clear. 

The government says 5.5 percent of the population are “refugees and displaced persons”. 

The census gave a breakdown by nationality for the first time, showing there were 1.8 million Yemenis and a total of 1.6 million nationals from Syria, Sudan, Somalia, Eritrea, Afghanistan and Myanmar. 

Those countries are cited by the United Nations as main origin countries of refugees globally. But the census gave no indication of how many of these nationals were illegal or displaced. 

In 2022 335 persons with refugee status and 13,483 asylum seekers were registered in Saudi Arabia, according to the Vatican’s Integral Human Development organisation, mainly from Syria, Eritrea, Iraq and Somalia. 

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