Despite an announcement of visa extension, the fears of Bangladeshi expatriates who work in Saudi Arabia have not abated. They are still in uncertainty and confusion. Although protests helped solve the ticket and flight problems to some extent, the workers are facing fresh complications over extending the visa and iqama (valid work permit).

The visas and iqamas of Saudi migrant workers staying in the country amid the COVID situation have automatically been extended three times this year. It was expected that, naturally, the visas and iqamas will be extended this time too. The first complication was over collecting the plane tickets. After the migrant workers demonstrated several times, both the Bangladesh and Saudi governments allowed flights to land in the respective countries and also increased flights. It is unfortunate that the remittance earners have been facing visa and iqama complications.

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Some 50,000 Saudi migrant workers have been stranded in the country. Most of their visas expired by 30 September while the iqamas will expire soon too. They took to the streets out of the fear of losing jobs and demanded immediate government intervention. It is being said that the iqamas of the Bangladesh workers will automatically be extended, but the visas will be extended as per the rule of the Saudi government.

The Saudi embassy says the issue will be solved contacting the authorised agencies. But the expatriate workers have been facing harassment and are facing financial losses because of this. The documents that the agencies are asking for, cannot be brought from Saudi in a short time. They will have to spend money there and pay the agencies Tk 25,000 to 30,000 too.

There are more than 10 million migrant workers abroad other than Saudi Arabia. All the departments of the government must work together to ensure that the workers do not lose their jobs, and those who are in the country, can return to their workplaces safely.

According the media, the migrant workers are empty-handed as they had to stay long in the country and these expenses are a burden on them. Also, it is also difficult to collect the documents the agencies want. The agencies asked for the original copies of permit issued by the kafeel (employer), Saudi zawat (work permit), letter including recommendation from the kafeel, passport exit re-entry visa, original document mentioning the departure date from Saudi airport, and iqama, and so on. Many expatriates earlier said that it was so hard to bring the original copy of the work permits from Saudi Arabia and the letters of recommendation from kafeel. In addition, there are a number of instructions from the Saudi authorities including quarantine for a specific time and COVID test at the designated health facility of the embassy before the air travel.

The government has made some efforts to solve this. Prime minister Sheikh Hasina on Monday directed the foreign minister to submit a detailed report regarding repatriation of the migrant workers to their workplaces and arrangements for new job markets for them at the next cabinet meeting. Hopefully, the government will take urgent steps over the matter in light of the report.

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There is no alternative but to step up diplomatic efforts and initiatives in this situation. There are more than 10 million migrant workers abroad other than Saudi Arabia. All the departments of the government must work together to ensure that the workers do not lose their jobs, and those who are in the country, can return to their workplaces safely. In particular, the foreign affairs and expatriate welfare ministries should undertake special initiative, outside of their regular role.