- Visa validity of many Saudi-bound workers expired on Sept 30
- Stranded expats have been seeking automatic renewal of reentry visas
- The latest move by Saudi Arabia is providing expats with some respite
- Saudi Arabia extended visas for Bangladeshi citizens several times amid pandemic
- Civil aviation ministry has warned expat workers of fraudulent activities over tickets
- Expatriate ministry and Baira will work jointly to resolve issues of migrant returnees
The Saudi government has extended the validity of reentry visas for Bangladeshi expatriate workers until October 30, bringing a much-needed respite to hundreds of stranded Saudi returnees struggling to return to their workplaces.
Foreign Minister Dr AK Abdul Momen confirmed the matter to the media on Wednesday.
The visa validity of many Saudi-bound workers expired on September 30. Recently, the Saudi government imposed a fresh condition, requiring workers to submit a number of documents from their employers in order to extend the validity of visas.
The new condition triggered protests among stranded Saudi returnees in Bangladesh, and they sought the Bangladesh government's help in persuading Saudi Arabia to facilitate the automatic renewal of their reentry visas.
Commenting on the issue, Bangladesh Association of International Recruiting Agencies' (Baira) Senior Vice President Shahadat Hossain said, "We learned about Saudi Arabia's decision regarding the matter from the media.
"If they did automatically renew the validity of visas, stranded returnees will no longer have to submit more documents from their employers. Besides, they will not have to visit any particular visa processing agency selected by the Saudi embassy in Dhaka."
He added, "I am optimistic that the complications surrounding the reentry visas will be resolved by the latest decision of the Saudi authorities."
The Saudi government has so far extended the validity of Iqama (work permit) and visas for Bangladesh citizens several times during the Covid-19 pandemic at the request of Bangladesh.
Shameem Ahmed Chowdhury Noman, secretary general of Baira, said, "We do not have any information on whether the Saudi decision on extending visas for Bangladeshi expats would be applicable to fresh Saudi-bound workers."
Along with stranded Saudi returnees, around 86,000 newly recruited Bangladeshi workers also became stuck in the country due to the pandemic. The visas of many such workers have also expired.
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Civil Aviation and Tourism – through a press release issued on Wednesday – urged Saudi-bound stranded migrant workers to be aware about any fraudulent activities while buying tickets from travel agencies.
Roughly translated from Bangla, the press release read, "It has come to our attention that a number of dishonest agencies/individuals are making fraudulent posts on various platforms including social media, offering to help expats with the ticket re-issuance process for money.
"Such practices are punishable by the law. We are requesting everyone to refrain from engaging in such activities."
The release further read, "Legal action will be taken against those involved with such unlawful activities. We are urging the Saudi-bound passengers to exercise caution against such fraudulence."
The ministry also pointed out that the Biman Bangladesh Airlines is re-issuing tickets and allocating seats to previous Saudi-bound ticket holders completely free of charge.
Over one lakh Bangladeshi migrants became stranded in the country due to flight suspension amid the pandemic, and around 80% of them are Saudi-bound workers, according to the Baira.
Baira meets expatriate ministry over migrants' issues
The Ministry of Expatriates' Welfare and Overseas Employment and Baira will work jointly to resolve the issues of migrant returnees amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
"The decision came from a meeting attended by me. It was held at the ministry on Wednesday," said Shameem Ahmed Chowdhury Noman, secretary general of Baira.
"The ministry will formulate a database of migrant returnees and we will cooperate with them regarding the matter," Noman said, adding, "The ministry recently directed Bangladesh's foreign missions abroad to help manpower recruiting agencies resolve migrant recruitment issues."
He also claimed that previously, some foreign missions did not cooperate with Baira members.
"A meeting of the parliamentary committee on expatriate welfare and overseas employment will be held on Thursday to discuss the crises of migrant returnees. Baira will also participate in the meeting," Noman told The Business Standard.