RIYADH - Tens of thousands of foreign workers are trying to leave Saudi Arabia after the government of the world's No. 1 oil exporter said they would be forgiven any fees or fines for visa violations such as overstaying or switching jobs.
Riyadh is pursuing sweeping labor reform that would tackle domestic unemployment by pushing firms to hire Saudi nationals - who now hold only about one in 10 private sector jobs - instead of some of its roughly 9 million foreign residents.
The disproportion of foreigners in jobs arises, some firms say, from the fact Saudis demand higher wages and are harder to sack than expatriates. Other firms, particularly those in fields involving manual labor, say they cannot attract Saudi workers.