At the end of last month the Kingdom of Bahrain had got rid of more than 9,000 illegal expatriates – a handsome figure for a nation with a population of just about 1.2 million.
The scheme had been introduced to facilitate the departure of those workers who had overstayed their residence visas or had landed on a visit visa and chosen to stay back looking for a job and in the meantime moonshining to make ends meet. The third category to benefit was those who were legitimate employees with expired work visas but working for employers who were not keen to renew those visas to save on expenses.
Like elsewhere in the world, including the US where illegal Mexican aliens are often exploited, some employers find it convenient to hire illegal workers because the latter would not complain to the authorities if the living conditions were poor, food was bad, salaries were lower than the minimum or warranted wages and if even those were kept in arrears for months.
The Easy Exit scheme was a no-questions-asked scheme which allowed, among others, more than 5,700 Bangladeshis, nearly 3,200 Indians and 194 Pakistanis to leave after paying just a token fine. In the wake of their departure, the authorities are now planning to send out teams to check on the status of those who have stayed behind in order to detain the illegals among them. The employers who may have hired any of them face a fine of anything from 500 to 1,000 dinars ($1,330 to $2,660).
The scheme has not only helped those who have left for home but is bound to be of benefit to Bahrain as well. For one thing, the exploited illegals oftentimes tend to end up at their embassy’s door once they reach the end of their tether suffering at the hands of their rogue employers. And once the embassy begins to ask questions all round, it hurts the country’s image and becomes embarrassing for the authorities for no fault of theirs.
Moreover, since the Easy Exit scheme leaves fewer people open to ‘exploitation’, the employers are compelled to look for the regulars among the expatriates – the ones with proper papers – who do not come cheap since they expect all that is spelled out in the Kingdom’s labour law in terms of wages, housing, paid leave, ticket home, medical facilities, transport and so on.
And that’s when the Bahraini employer begins to see reason – that if that is to be price of hiring an expatriate, why not hire a Bahraini instead who may certainly have to be given the mandatory wages but is not generally given housing nor ticket ‘home’ (Bahrain being his home), does not demand leave for months at a stretch, and being a citizen is covered by the government healthcare scheme anyway.
Thus, while doing good to the expatriate community slogging away at the lower rungs, the scheme indirectly helps to reduce the local unemployment level as well. And to top it all, while even the lowliest expat worker tends to send at least some money back home to his family, in the case of Bahraini employees the nation’s wealth remains within the nation itself. This is where they live and this is where they spend.