An initiative in Saudi Arabia helping expatriates to return home is limited to legals, authorities have said. Image Credit: Agencies

Cairo: A Saudi initiative facilitating return home for expatriates, stranded by travel restrictions due to the novel coronavirus, is restricted to legal residents, authorities have said.

In April, Saudi Arabia launched Awdah (return), an online initiative offering air travel for foreigners wishing to return home after the kingdom had halted a month earlier international flights as part of measures to combat the spread of COVID-19.

The Saudi General Directorate of Passports, Jawazat, has elaborated that the Awdah initiative is now available for legal residents only, Saudi online newspaper Ajel has reported.

Accepting expatriates’ applications for repatriation hinges on their respective home countries’ approval to take them in, after which the competent agencies in the kingdom embark on travel booking and contacting the foreign resident wishing to return home, it added.

Migrant workers account for about 10.5 million of Saudi Arabia’s 34.8 million population.

The Saudi Interior Ministry earlier said that all nationalities are allowed to register in the Awdah initiative launched for foreign residents holding visas of exit and return, final exit, different types of visit as well as the tourist visas by applying via the electronic platform “Absher” to fly home.

Access to the initiative is gained by logging onto the icon “Awdah” on the “Absher” platform and filling the following fields: the Iqama number; the birth date; the mobile number; the departure city; and the arrival airport.

Applicants should not necessarily have an “Absher” account, an exception aimed at facilitating foreign residents to benefit from the service, according to the ministry.

In recent weeks, Saudi Arabia has relaxed several virus-related curbs, including restart of domestic air travel. However, a halt to international flights from and to the kingdom is still in place.