A nine-month amnesty for thousands of undocumented foreign workers to either legalise their stay or leave has started in Bahrain as part of measures to offset the impact of Covid-19.
The move will target an estimated 55,000 illegal expatriates of different nationalities, known as ‘free-visa workers’, and is being spearheaded by the Labour Market Regulatory Authority (LMRA).
LMRA chief executive Ausamah Al Absi told the GDN in an exclusive interview that applications for the amnesty will be accepted from today until December 31.
This means those applying for the amnesty will not be required to pay any fines if they want to regularise their stay in Bahrain and will also be allowed to leave the country without any penalties.
Illegal expatriates with expired or terminated work permits can sponsor themselves and live in Bahrain by applying for the Flexible Work Permit issued by the LMRA.
“This is a humanitarian gesture in these extraordinary times to ensure irregular workers can either leave the country or lead to gainful employment,” said Mr Al Absi yesterday.
“This amnesty that lasts until the end of the year is similar to the previous ones as it covers irregular workers with expired or terminated work permits and those absent from work (known as runaways).”
However, Mr Al Absi said that expatriates with pending court cases against them will not be covered under the scheme.
It is also understood that those who overstayed on visit visas or with travel bans imposed on them cannot apply for the amnesty.
“We want to ensure the safety of all expatriates in the country and health care access during these times,” added Mr Al Absi.
“There are many who are excluded because of their illegal situation, and now is the time to regularise their stay by finding a job and get proper health care or they have the option to leave the country during this amnesty.”
The last amnesty was conducted in 2015 and lasted for six months during which a total of 42,109 workers benefited from the grace period.
Of those 76 per cent or 31,894 individuals legalised their stay in the country after moving to new employers, while 24pc or 10,125 people returned to their home countries.
Another amnesty was held in 2010 when more than 6,000 illegal workers left the country, while thousands of undocumented migrant workers left during a five-month grace period in 2007.
Mr Al Absi added that no new foreign workers have entered Bahrain due to travel restrictions imposed around the world as a result of Covid-19.
“There are no new workers coming into the country and those who are already here have this golden opportunity to utilise the amnesty and return back when the travel restrictions are eased,” he said.
“We are trying our level best to alleviate the suffering or hardships faced by this segment of the society through this amnesty.”
The LMRA has already waived monthly fees on expats until June as part of measures to support businesses during this period.
Labour and Social Development Minister Jameel Humaidan also told MPs last week that there are 498,000 legal expatriate workers in the private sector according to latest figures until December.
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