15,000 expatriates apply for amnesty in Bahrain

The nine-month amnesty for illegal workers started last month and will end on December 31

  
Image used for illustrative purpose. Bahrain. Modern buildings in Manama skyline.

Image used for illustrative purpose. Bahrain. Modern buildings in Manama skyline.

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MORE than 15,000 undocumented workers have so far applied for an amnesty under which they can either leave Bahrain or regularise their stay.

The nine-month amnesty for illegal workers started last month and will end on December 31, and aims to cover an estimated 55,000 expatriate workers of different nationalities.

The Labour Market Regulatory Authority (LMRA) launched the initiative as part of Covid-19 measures.

“We have received a good response so far, with over 15,000 expatriates coming forward to avail the amnesty,” said LMRA chief executive Ausamah Al Absi.

“These are skilled and semi-skilled workers of different nationalities.”

The official said many expatriates faced job losses due to the coronavirus situation which has affected the workforce globally.

“We know, obviously, there are job losses that would result in many individuals either wanting to rectify their situation or return home.

“In the present situation, a lot more people want to get out rather than come into the country.”

He said the LMRA received several complaints last month from citizens related to job losses which were being addressed.

“We continue to accept applications from irregular workers and try to help them shift to the flexi work permit system which allows them to sponsor themselves, or leave the country (when flights resume), as part of the amnesty.”

Those applying and availing the amnesty are not required to pay fines and can leave Bahrain without any penalties.

“We are lifting the violations on our systems, to ensure the foreign worker can leave the country during the nine-month amnesty period.”

Those with pending court cases or travel bans against them and those who overstayed their visit visas are not eligible for the amnesty.

Mr Al Absi said the biggest challenge was to remove the fear from the expatriates.

Mr Al Absi

“Even if the inspectors catch the violators we cannot deport them due to flight restrictions, on the contrary we can help them legalise their stay.

“We want people to trust us during this time rather than be afraid.”

The last amnesty was in 2015 for six months during which 42,019 workers benefited, with 76 per cent (31,894) staying in the country after moving to new employers, while 24pc (10,125) returned to their countries.

A 2010 amnesty saw more than 6,000 illegal workers leaving the country, while thousands of undocumented migrant workers left during a five-month grace period in 2007.

Bangladesh Labour Counsellor Shaikh Islam told the GDN they were dealing with hundreds of daily walk-ins desperate to rectify their legal status.

“The majority of those who have so far applied for amnesty are Bangladeshis, based on our understanding,” he said.

The GDN reported last week that expats who lost their jobs, or are at the risk of losing their livelihoods could apply for the flexi work permit for less than BD200 and stay in the country for a year.

Those eligible for the permit include illegal expatriates with expired or terminated work permits, people who have not been paid salaries and have filed cases against their employers, and expatriates whose workplace has a cancelled Commercial Registration. Those with travel bans or facing court cases are not eligible.

Meanwhile, Mr Al Absi said more than 10,000 meals a day are being provided to low-income workers who are under home quarantine.

“We don’t want anyone to starve despite their legal status during this period,” he said.

The LMRA has already waived monthly fees on expats until next month as part of measures to support businesses during this period.

sandy@gdn.com.bh

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