Government rushing two senior ministers to Saudi Arabia

New Delhi, April 2 (IANS) The Indian government proposes to send two senior ministers to Saudi Arabia to asses the impact of the new ‘nitaqat’ employment policy that is expected to affect thousands of Indians who are working in the kingdom without valid employment or visa documents.

Minister for Overseas Indian Affairs Vayalar Ravi and Minister of State for External Affairs E. Ahmed would soon head to Saudi Arabia, External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid told a group of Urdu media journalists here Tuesday evening. The visit is timed with the return of Saudi Labour Minister Adel Fakieh, who is currently out of country.

The external affairs ministry is also in touch with the Saudi ambassador on this issue.

Khurshid said that Indian diplomats in Saudi Arabia have rushed to Damam province, where Saudi labour ministry officials have conducted raids to detect illegal workers. The Indian embassy in Riyadh has been directed to post additional staff in Damam to assist Indian workers who are being scrutinized by the local authorities.

The minister said there is no exodus of Indian workers from the Kingdom, adding that all possible help will be rendred to the Indians. He said the embassy would issue emergency exit certificates to those Indians who did not have travel documents.

Khurshid said the Indian government is in constant touch with the Saudi authorities on this sensitive issue. “We want the Saudi government to adopt a humanitarian approach so that workers are not punished or penalised.”

The Saudi government says the ‘nitaqat’ system is meant to boost employment for locals in the private sector.

Around two million Indians are working in various capacities in Saudi Arabia. Under the new law, private companies are required to provide 10 percent jobs to locals. This will affect around 300,000 Indians, mainly from Kerala, who are enganged in semi-skilled jobs in the Kingdom.

The issue was raised by Kerala Chief Oomman Chandy with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Defence Minister A.K. Antony and Khurshid. Other ministers were also briefed about the new law’s impact on Indian workers. The Kerala government fears an exodus of India from Saudi Arabia and apprehends this may create acute employment crisis in the state.

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