Bangladeshi migrants face an uncertainty as the extension of the validity of expired iqamas (residence permits) and exit and re-entry visas for expatriates to Saudi Arabia ends today (Wednesday).
In July, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia extended the deadline of expired iqamas and visas in the wake of novel coronavirus outbreak till 30 September.
Migrants, who came home for holidays at the beginning of the outbreak of the virus, became desperate to get air tickets to fly to Saudi Arabia.
Rajab Ali, a resident of Satkhira, came home on leave from Saudi Arabia in December last year. Out of the fear of getting stranded due to coronavirus, he spent additional money and changed his ticket for 28 March instead of May. But the air communication was shut. The period of his leave ended. He contacted the employer (kafeel), who did not agree to extend the leave.
Migrants said all the kafeels are not honest. There are different types of fees for iqama. Many migrants have to pay Tk 100,000-120,000 for iqama of one year. That is why kafeels would not be interested to extend the validity of iqamas in absence of the workers
Jasimuddin Byapari, a resident of Gazipur, came home on a five-month leave in January. As he did not get a ticket, he contacted his kafeel, who extended his work permit till November. But he is not interested to make delay anymore as the coronavirus outbreak may intensify in November, and flights may again be suspended.
Like Rajab Ali and Jasimuddin, thousands of migrant workers have been facing the same fate.
They took to the streets demanding air tickets on 21 September.
Following the protest, the foreign ministry announced that the deadline has been extended until 24 October.
Sources at the visa processing agency and the Bangladesh embassy in Saudi Arabia said the deadline of the validity of expired iqama and re-entry visas has not been extended.
Diplomatic sources in Dhaka and Riyadh said all the migrants have to take exit, re-entry visas while going on leave. The visa remains valid till the leave period. So the migrants have to return within a stipulated time. But the deadline of visas increases if the kafeel extends the leave period.
Thousands of Bangladeshis were stranded due to the coronavirus. For these migrants, at least 50,000 kafeels have to apply. So on behalf of the kafeels, the Saudi government extended the deadline of visas till 30 September.
Migrants said all the kafeels are not honest. There are different types of fees for iqama. Many migrants have to pay Tk 100,000-120,000 for iqama of one year. That is why kafeels would not be interested to extend the validity of iqamas in absence of the workers.
Regarding the matter, foreign minister AK Abdul Momen said the Saudi government said they will increase the validity of iqamas.
But the migrants have to contact the kafeels to extend the period of leave. In this regard, the Saudi government has nothing to do, Momen added.
Migrants took to the streets demanding solution to their visa complication and return tickets to Saudi Arabia on Sunday.
They blocked the main road near the SAARC fountain in Karwan Bazar area in the capital around 10:00am on Sunday. A long tailback was created on the road before they were cleared around 10:30am.
The expatriates have been protesting in the capital city demanding extension of their iqamas and return tickets to Saudi Arabia since Monday.
*This report, originally published in Prothom Alo print edition, has been rewritten in English by Rabiul Islam.