Khurshid in Jeddah for counter-terrorism, Nitaqat Law, trade talks with Saudi leadership

Jeddah (Saudi Arabia), May 25 (ANI): External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid arrived in Jeddah on Saturday for talks with the Saudi Arabian leadership on a wide range of issues, including the controversial 'Nitaqat law' and on counter terrorism cooperation.

Khurshid, who is on an official two-day visit to Saudi Arabia, was given a warm welcome by Saudi Arabia's Deputy Foreign Minister Abdul Aziz Bin Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz soon after his arrival.

Speaking to reporters during a small halt at Abu Dhabi, Khurshid highlighted the Indian Government's concerns over the plight of ex-patriates employed in Saudi Arabia, consequent to the introduction of a proposed work force nationalisation law by the Middle East nation.

"It obviously is a challenge, but not something that we cannot meet, and something that we cannot quickly put things in motion for. To begin with the issue is, we have three months of a grace period, within which, whatever needs to be done, has to be done, and the numbers are very large, in terms of the number of people who are getting exit permits, that is about 500 a day at present," said Khurshid.

With the Indian mission so far processing 50,000 applications and sending them over to the Saudi authorities to issue exit visas, Khurshid informed that India is ready to assist them to meet the July 3 deadline.

As per the details provided by officials handling the issue, expats, whose applications have been processed by the state of Uttar Pradesh (21,331), tops in numbers followed by Andhra Pradesh (7,913).

As of May 20, the Indian Embassy in Saudi Arabia has processed applications of Indian workers hailing from states such as West Bengal (5,430), Tamil Nadu (3,610), Bihar (3,035), Rajasthan (2,504), Karnataka (1,082), Jammu and Kashmir (906) and Maharashtra (766).

Khurshid added that respective states have been informed and urged to expedite arrangements for their speedy rehabilitation.

The work force nationalisation law, 'Nitaqat', introduced by the Saudi Arabia, fully came into effect on March 29 this year.

It aims to accelerate the nationalisation process, as it makes mandatory for small and medium businesses to hire one Saudi national out of every 10 migrant workers.

Nearly 150,000 workers from Kerala state fear losing their jobs after Nitaqat came into force.

Relations between the two countries got a boost, following the recent visit of Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

Last month, King Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz called for giving foreigners staying illegally in the country a three-month grace period to regularise their situation.

Authorities in Saudi Arabia have launched a massive campaign to deport thousands of foreigners who have overstayed in the country, working beyond the given permits or worked illegally.

According to the report, the nation-wide campaign is attributed to ambitious labour market reforms and boosting security levels.

Around eight million expatriates work and live in the vast Saudi kingdom, mainly unskilled labourers and domestic helpers from Asian countries, the report added.

Trade between India and Saudi Arabia has surged from USD 15,946.10 million in 2006-07 to USD 25,612.46 million in 2010-11.

India imports almost 23 percent of its crude oil requirements from Saudi Arabia.

According to the annual report of the Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs, there is an upsurge demand of Saudi Arabia as a desired destination among low-and semi-skilled workers from India.

The number of Keralites working in Saudi Arabia has increased dramatically in the last couple of years.

Khurshid will hold bilateral discussions with his Saudi counterpart Saud bin Faisal bin Abdulaziz Al Saud and other leaders on counter-terrorism and trade and investment. (ANI)

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