MORE than 2,000 illegal expatriate workers have legalised their stay in Bahrain ever since a new work permit scheme was launched last July, it has been revealed.
These workers have been issued two-year flexi work permits, allowing them to live and work in the country without an employer (sponsor), and in any job with any number of employers on a full-time or part-time basis.
Labour Market Regulatory Authority (LMRA) chief executive Ausamah Al Absi said he hoped to see the number rise this year; there are an estimated 60,000 illegal workers in the kingdom.
“To date, we have issued flexi work permits to 2,063 workers since the scheme was launched last July,” Mr Al Absi told the GDN.
“This is a good sign. We are slowly building confidence among workers who have been traditionally afraid of dealing with the government.”
In September last year, the eligibility for flexi work permits was extended to expatriate workers who did not have their passports with them.
The only condition was that the passport should be valid for at least six months at the time of application.
Earlier, all applicants were required to produce their original passports while applying under the Flexi Work Permit scheme.
They will undergo the same process as the other applicants, but only their work permit and residency details will be entered into the LMRA system.
“After applicants are processed at our Sitra branch, workers who do not have their passports with them will be issued a blue colour identity card, and their residency details entered into our database.
“The workers can either visit the embassy for a travel document or go through legal channels to get back their passports, which should be submitted within six months for the residency permit to be stamped by Immigration authorities.”
The blue card, renewable every six months free of charge, will feature a worker’s CPR number and photograph.
He will also receive a text message to visit Immigration to have a two-year residence permit stamped on the card.
A two-year flexi work permit costs BD1,169, including BD200 for a work visa, BD144 healthcare fee, a BD30 monthly fee and a one-time deposit of BD90 to ensure travel tickets can be refunded in case the worker wishes to return home.
There is also a one-time BD15 discounted fee to be paid by a person whose residency has expired.
“The permit is the first of its kind in the region providing greater flexibility to workers; the initiative has been recognised at several UN meetings and conferences,” said Mr Al Absi.
However, violations have been detected by people issued flexi permits working as street vendors, which is against the law.
Expats aged under 60 who live in Bahrain and do not have a legal work permit are not eligible under the scheme which is designed to help stamp out the so-called “free visa” market, under which foreigners purchased work permits for as much as BD1,500 and then worked illegally for other employers.
Authorities hope to issue 48,000 permits until the end of next year and the new initiative is expected to inject as much as BD56 million into the government coffers – money that would otherwise have gone into the illegal visa black market.
Domestic workers and those with travel bans or court cases are not covered under the scheme.
Anyone wishing to check if they are eligible for a flexi work permit should send their CPR numbers via text message to 33150150 or visit lmra.bh.