Foreign workers hold their passports as they gather outside a labour office, after missing a deadline to correct their visa status, in Riyadh on Thursday. Image Credit: Reuters

Manama: Public security forces in Saudi Arabia have arrested more than 4,300 foreigners staying illegally in three major cities in the kingdom hours after the end of a grace period granted to people staying illegally to regularise their situation.

“The security operations to apprehend illegal residents launched in public areas have so far resulted in the apprehension of 3,913 people,” Nawaf Bin Nasser Al Bouq, the spokesman for the police in the Red Sea city of Jeddah, said. “We have drawn up plans about the way and where the campaigns should be conducted and we are implementing them in coordination with the competent parties,” he said in remarks carried by local daily Al Eqtisadiya on Tuesday.

Saudi Arabian authorities had given all foreigners a three-month grace period to regularise their situation. The period was extended by four months in July amid warnings that the November 3 date would be final.

In late October, the authorities repeatedly said there would be no extension and warned that those who were staying illegally either because their resident permits or visit visas had expired or because they had been infiltrated across the borders into the vast kingdom would be arrested.

In the Eastern Province, Gharam Allah Bin Mohammad Al Zahrani, the spokesman for the police, said that hours after the expiry of the grace period, 399 people from various nationalities were arrested.

“The campaigns will be relentless and we warn Saudi nationals to avoid dealing in any way with those who are breaking the residence rules and regulations,” he said.

In Al Taif, a city in the west of the country, the police said that 83 foreigners had been arrested for flouting the residence law.

However, while the police were reporting the numbers of residence rules violators they had arrested, schools and businesses were highlighting the dramatic effects of the campaigns.

Several businesses had warned that they would be severely affected by the decision, as many of their non-regular employees were people without proper official documents.

In the capital Riyadh, dozens of bus drivers did not show up to take female students to university amid concerns they would be arrested for breaking the rules for not being officially registered with the higher learning institution, local news site Sabq reported on Tuesday.

“We were forced to drive our daughters and sisters to the university since no bus showed up,” parents were quoted as saying. “We informed the university about the situation, but officials there said that the bus drivers could no longer transport students as they were afraid they would be arrested for breaking the rules.”

In Dammam, the main coastal city in the Eastern Province, Al Khazzan Avenue, a usually vibrant area where hundreds of unskilled foreigners gather, was eerily quiet with only few people showing up.

Reports said that expatriates preferred to avoid the public place and possible raids by the police looking for law violators.

In Hail, in the north of the country, Saudis said that for the first time in 30 years, they could not find electricians or plumbers easily.

“The few ones who were available after a long search hiked their fees from 30 riyals to 200 riyals,” a Saudi man told Al Marsad news site.

In Jeddah, local reports said that hundreds of expatriates have been putting pressure on their consulates for help to leave the country after they failed to regularise their status.