(MENAFN - Arab News) The Directorate General of Passports in Riyadh says the Kingdom deported 575,000 visa violators in 2012.
The so-called free visa holders use legal visas that were not issued to them or they continue to use the visa after they left their sponsor. Other violators use fake visas. Both are still offered new jobs at a low salary.
The Interior and Labor ministries have been working continuously to net the visa violators.
Minister of Labor Adel Fakeih said there are 8 million expats in Saudi Arabia. Of those, 6 million work in the private sector.
"Free visa holders usually agree to work for a low salary. They also do several jobs," Fakeih said.
The Labor Ministry has no statistics on the number of illegal workers in the Kingdom.
"Many small- and medium-sized companies prefer employing expats carrying free visa. This has become a common phenomenon in Saudi Arabia," said Mohammed Al-Rouwaili, an HR official at a private construction company.
Companies prefer to hire those free visa holders, as their salaries are relatively low - between SR 800 and SR 2,500 per month, said Al-Rouwaili.
"After the Labor Ministry imposed a fee of SR 2,400 on each foreign worker, the companies' demand for free visa holders increased," he said.
Free visas can be purchased from a middleman in the country of origin of a worker. Moreover, there is a black market for visas in Saudi Arabia.
A visa seller who works in Yemen and prefers to remain anonymous told Arab News that individuals and companies sell thousands of work visas for between SR 10,000 and SR 15,000.
"I usually get these free visas from sellers in GCC countries at a fair cost price. Then I add my commission of 50 percent and sell these visas here in Yemen. Sometimes I sell the illegal visas for double the price to my colleagues in Pakistan, India and Ethiopia," he said.
According to an economist's report, the black market for visa costs the Saudi government an estimated SR 2.4 billion.
A source at a private company, who preferred to be anonymous, said the Labor Ministry is now giving out a limited number of visas to certain companies to prevent them from selling any surplus visas the ministry might have issued to them.
"As a construction company we need a large number of visas to hire workers for several projects. The Labor Ministry doesn't give the amount of visas that we order, which is why we hire free visa holders or violators. This also means we avoid paying fees for each worker," the source said.
"The Labor Ministry gives out visa according the need of each company. The ministry has recorded the number of workers and projects, so it can decide how many visa each company needs," said Hattab Al-Enizi, spokesman for the Labor Ministry.
He added: "Under Nitaqat, only companies in the platinum group can obtain more than their quota of visas, as they have already achieved a high rate of Saudization."
Al-Enizi added that the ministry continuously monitors the performance of each company and checks if it hires workers who are not under the company's sponsorship. "When we discover such cases, we immediately take action against the company and the workers," he said.