Manama: A Bahraini lawmaker has called for strict action to limit the number of foreigners staying illegally in the country, warning that their status is a social and economic threat.

"We see illegal expatriates, mainly unskilled workers, everywhere as if there is nothing wrong with their status," MP Abdul Halim Murad said. "This phenomenon has severe social impacts, including the abnormal increase in the number of people in Bahrain, unfair competition against Bahrainis, the establishment of fake companies, the spread of theft, involvement in crime, the spread of infectious diseases, trading in alcohol and prostitution," he told the lower chamber of the bicameral parliament.

Figures released by the labour ministry indicate that around 40,000 foreigners are staying illegally in the country. The "free visa" expatriates, usually victims of rackets in their home countries, are flown into the country on promises of secure jobs, end up doing odd jobs to pay their local sponsors, send some cash to their families and survive in difficult conditions.

"The presence of these people under such conditions is unacceptable and they are a ticking time bomb threat if the situation is not adequately addressed. We have been talking about this deplorable situation for years and despite all the promises we heard, the whole issue is getting worse, not better," saidthe MP, representing Al Asala, the expression of Salafism in Bahrain.

The situation requires joint efforts by the labour and interior ministries and both should be prompted into action, he said.

The labour minister admitted the existence of a thorny social and economic issue, but said that some business owners are compounding the situation by not cooperating.