DUBAI - Saudi authorities rounded up thousands of illegal foreign workers at the start of a nationwide crackdown ultimately aimed at creating more jobs for locals, media reported on Tuesday.
Hundreds of thousands of workers have already left the kingdom following a grace period of seven months during which authorities told expatriates that if they did not fix their legal status they had to leave the country or face jail.
The government hopes that reducing the number of illegal workers will create opportunities for Saudi job-seekers. The official Saudi unemployment rate is 12 percent but excludes a large number of citizens who say they are not seeking a job.
However, the majority of the kingdom's nine million foreigners are unskilled laborers or domestic workers, jobs usually shunned by Saudis.
"Since early (Monday) morning, the security campaign got off to a vigorous start as inspectors swung into action," Nawaf al-Bouq, a police spokesman, told Saudi Gazette newspaper.
Police carried out raids on businesses, markets and residential areas to catch expatriates whose visas are invalid because they are not working for the company that 'sponsored' their entry into the kingdom.
For a second day on Tuesday parts of the capital Riyadh were unusually empty as many expatriates stayed at home to avoid potential arrest.