Availing grace period: A partnership of unity
Availing grace period: A partnership of unity
A partnership of the embassy and the community, along with the support and cooperation of the Saudi and Indian authorities, has so far been able to face this challenge. So far we got it correct. The Nitaqat program is a domestic policy decision of Saudi Arabia as part of its efforts to streamline its domestic labor market and also to get jobs for its citizens. It is Saudi domestic law. No country can or should try to interfere in another country’s domestic policies. Other countries can only raise issues of welfare of their expatriates and seek a humanitarian approach. This is what India and the Indian Embassy here did. While urging every Indian in Saudi Arabia to fully utilize the concessions announced by the Saudi authorities, the government of India and the Embassy of India brought to the attention of the leadership of this country all issues pertaining to the welfare of the expatriates. The embassy through several interactions with the community in various cities of Saudi Arabia understood the problem that the community faced and put it across to the Saudi leadership. This effort was well appreciated by the Saudi authorities who acted on the request and suggestions.
The embassy expresses its sincere gratitude to His Majesty and the leadership of this country for adopting a humanitarian approach while implementing the Nitaqat program. This humanitarian approach is also a message that after the end of the grace period one cannot and should not blame the host government for strict implementation of their domestic program and that everyone should fully utilize the grace period to correct their status or leave the country before the extended date of Nov. 3, 2013. India believes that a streamlined labor market in Saudi Arabia is in the interest of the Indian expatriate community. Being legal would benefit everyone — employee, employer, sending country and recipient country. Being illegal in a foreign land would help none. It will deny one the benefits and protection of local laws and regulations. Being legal in a foreign land would help everyone.
The Saudi officers at all levels have been helpful. They were ready to listen to our suggestions. The Saudi officers who worked in the night during the holy month of Ramadan deserve our special thanks. Meetings at high levels and working official levels were held regularly with Saudi authorities. The visit of ministerial delegation comprising Minister of Overseas Indian Affairs Vayalar Ravi, Minister of State for External Affairs E. Ahamed and Adviser to Hon’ble Prime Minister T.K.A. Nair in April 2013 and visit of External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid in May 2013 helped us to take up the issues at high levels. Ambassador held regular meetings with ministers and governors of the Kingdom.
The Indian Diaspora includes Indian citizens not residing in India and persons of Indian origin who have acquired the citizenship in another country. All across the world the Indian Diaspora is currently estimated to be over 30 million. They cover almost every country of the world. Globally it is well assimilated with their adopted country of residence, and produced successful entrepreneurs, beloved educators, scientists and astronauts and stars in every profession. In some countries it is now nurturing a second generation that will surely outshine its parents, in those fine Indian traditions that were the essential basis for its own unparalleled success.
There are over two million Indians in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. They are partners in the economic development of this country. They work in peace and harmony and are the most preferred community for their law abiding nature and discipline. India as an emerging economy with its focus on education today is contributing to Saudi Arabia all kinds of workforce, high-end professionals and scholars to nurses and labor force. Indian–Saudi partnership in human resources is there to stay for several decades to come. The community played a significant role in strengthening the bilateral engagement between the two countries.
India Diaspora in any country may come from different parts of India — north, south, east and west. They may speak several different languages and practice different religions. They might follow different political ideologies. But these differences are their strength and from these differences emerge India as a nation of unity in diversity. There is a feeling of oneness and common consciousness that keeps us together and becomes more evident when we face challenges.
The announcement of grace period was one of such challenges that we faced. We were ready from day one to address the concern of the community. Ambassador encouraged the Indian community in Saudi Arabia to transcend sectarian, religious, regional and language barriers and work together to help their brothers and sisters in need. This was a unifying exercise for the Indians in Saudi Arabia which worked.
An appeal from the ambassador to the community members to assist the embassy evoked an overwhelming response with more than 600 non-remunerative volunteers registering with the embassy within weeks. They were the eyes and ears of the Embassy of India throughout Saudi Arabia. They went around this huge country to its small towns and villages and even to remote areas with the message to utilize the grace period. Our volunteers helped at the 24x7 helplines at the embassy, at the schools and at the labour offices and tarheels (deportation centers) all over Saudi Arabia and at major airports.
In Riyadh, Dammam and Jeddah and in other cities, our volunteers and their spouses served as channels of communication between the embassy and Indians in Saudi Arabia. They made 3000 to 4000 telephone calls every day. This way many Indians in distress felt connected and secure. There are several women volunteers who silently helped their sisters who availed the concessions offered during the grace period.
It was indeed a great sight to witness the efforts of Keralite and Tamil volunteers trying to explain to applicants from West Bengal in Hindi the concessions offered during the grace period. It was gratifying to see applicants from Uttar Pradesh carrying Malayalam newspapers and applicants from West Bengal buying Urdu papers to check their passport numbers. This was indeed an unprecedented and memorable occasion. The role played by media both local and vernacular and the electronic media in highlighting the problem and generating awareness for Indians all across Saudi Arabia is praiseworthy. The social media including the embassy website and Facebook page were used effectively to spread the message. Hundreds of thousands of booklets and pamphlets were printed in multiple languages and distributed all across Saudi Arabia by our volunteers. Every message that the embassy issued were translated to Malayalam, Hindi, Tamil, Bengali and Telugu by our volunteers and teachers.
The efforts of our schools which acted as epicenters of embassy operations in various cities were significant. The managing committee, principals, teachers and non-teaching staff and parents of the children all contributed one way or other in our efforts. The India and Saudi companies that came forward and offered jobs to our brothers need special mention. The services of Saudi legal firms which advised the embassy on legal issues pertaining to Nitaqat programme and the ‘concessions’ need to acknowledged.
We felt proud when Saudi authorities appreciated our efforts and expressed readiness to use the services of our volunteers for translation. It was no small achievement that despite the short time we have been able to issue Emergency Certificates to several thousands of Indians before the end of the first phase of the grace period. We continue to receive applications from Indians for Emergency Certificates which is being issued in due course.
India has historical relationship with Saudi Arabia. This relationship has been further reinforced during the visit of His Majesty King Abdullah to India in January 2006 as the Chief Guest of Republic Day and Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh to Saudi Arabia in February 2010 and several high level exchanges, latest of which was the visit of External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid in May 2013. Today we have a strategic partnership which covers political, economic, defence and security relations. It is also our 4th largest trade partner and major source of energy. These facts are very much in the minds of the policy makers of the two countries when they look at any issue.
The grace period is now extended till Nov. 3, 2013. We have a target now. All those who want to leave the country should be assisted to get Exit and leave. There were challenges and difficulties in the past. There will be more in coming days. We are soon going to undertake a new drive to remain engaged with our volunteers for a long-term partnership in addressing the concerns of the community during the grace period and beyond. We have put in place a group of Arabic knowing scholars well versed in Shariah law and Saudi labor laws. It is only natural that a community of our size and diversity would face challenges and difficulties. We will continue to address these issues together proactively.
Our relationship with Saudi Arabia is multi-faceted. We have made steady progress in each of the areas that we identified as part of our strategic partnership — political, economic, defence and security areas. The potential is tremendous. We will continue our engagement in all these areas through regular interaction and people to people exchanges. We will continue to discover each other. Every day is a day to contribute to strengthening our bilateral relationship.
• Sibi George is minister/deputy chief of mission, Riyadh