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As amnesty begins, violators in a quandary over exit process
Published in The Saudi Gazette on 29 - 03 - 2017

Saudi Gazette
JEDDAH — Thousands of residency law violators in the Kingdom are in a dilemma ahead of the general amnesty, which is set to begin on Wednesday, because of a lack of clarity on the means of approaching the Saudi passport authorities for obtaining exit visas.
People who arrived in the Kingdom on Haj, Umrah or visit visas and overstayed can directly go the exit points and leave the Kingdom. However, employment visa violators, who constitute the lion's share of illegal residents in the country, need to check with the expatriate affairs section in the Saudi Passport Department (Jawazat) to process exit visas.
For that the violators are required to seek an appointment through the electronic services, apparently Absher. After generating the appointment schedule, one needs to visit the nearest passport office, according to guidelines issued by the authorities.
The Absher account is purely based on a valid residency permit and can only be accessed by feeding the one-time-password sent to the registered mobile number. However, foreigners without valid residency permits are not allowed to maintain SIM cards of any mobile service providers in the country and thus cannot obtain the OTP.
In the case of thousands of expatriates who were reported to have absconded (huroob) by employers and whose residency permits have expired are also not in a position to access the electronic service and subsequently cannot seek an appointment at the passport office.
In addition, a significant number of Africans who sneak into the Kingdom across its southern borders do not carry any identification documents.
In these circumstances, expatriates who wish to avail of the amnesty are desperately looking for clarifications on ways to complete the exit visa process.
Foreign diplomatic missions are also seeking clarity on the use of Absher by people who wish to take advantage of the general amnesty.
Saudi Gazette contacted Maj. Talal Al-Shalhoub, spokesman for the Directorate Deneral of Passports in Riyadh, for his comment, but he did not respond.
Informed sources said the authorities might activate an electronic gate that expatriates without valid documents can access to seek appointments in the passport office and thus process their exit visas. However, final clarifications in this regard will emerge only on Wednesday.
According to a senior passport official, the three-month general amnesty as part of a "Nation Fee of Violators" campaign was aimed at enabling residency law violators to leave the country voluntarily at their own expense.
"The campaign targets all expats who have violated the system of residency, labor and border security," said Maj. Gen. Dhaifallah Al-Huwaifi, deputy director of passports, told Makkah daily.
He said a massive crackdown would follow the amnesty with the participation of 19 concerned government departments, including the passport department and the Ministry of Labor.
Al-Huwaili clarified that the campaign was not a status correction drive but a grace period for the violators to leave the country voluntarily without incurring punishment.
"There will be a number of incentives for violators who avail themselves of the amnesty and leave on their own free will. These include exemption from fines and imprisonment and the opportunity to come back to the Kingdom legally," he said.
Dhaifallah said overstayers of Haj, Umrah or visit visas as well as expatriates whose residency permits expired before the announcement of the amnesty on March 19 could take advantage of the campaign.
He said beneficiaries include infiltrators and random workers on the streets without valid iqamas but not those on huroob notification against them.

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