SANAA (Reuters) - Saudi Arabia has begun deporting thousands of Yemeni labourers following new regulations requiring foreigners to work only for their sponsors, a Yemeni official said on Monday, a move that could "significantly damage" the poor country's economy.
Some two million of Yemen's 25 million citizens work abroad, more than half of them in larger and richer neighbour Saudi Arabia. Remittances bring in $2 billion (1.31 billion pounds) a year to Yemen, a country still grappling with revolt, a separatist movement and an Islamist insurgency.
"If the decision is implemented, it will cause significant damage to the ... Yemeni economy, of which expatriates are a backbone since their remittances reach about $2 billion a year," Rajeh Badi, adviser to Yemen's prime minister, told Reuters.
Badi said the issue would affect more than 200,000 Yemenis who will have entered Saudi Arabia on a work visa, but who do not work for the sponsor they originally registered with.
Saudi Arabia is stepping up efforts to cut unemployment among its citizens. In recent days Saudi media has reported an increase in Labour Ministry checks of companies looking for employees not properly registered with the firm they work for.
Badi said the Yemeni government was holding talks with Saudi officials to try and give the Yemeni workers a chance to "rectify their legal situations".
The Yemeni Defence Ministry's website estimated up to 2,000 Yemenis were being deported daily since the new regulations went into effect some 10 days ago.
It quoted an expatriate worker as saying some Saudi sponsors impose what he described as "humiliating conditions", such as making them give up a portion of their salary, forcing them to change sponsors.
Saudi officials were not immediately available to comment on the report.
Most Gulf Arab states require foreign workers to have a local sponsor, who will apply for visas on their behalf and who they are expected to work for until their contracts run out.
About eight million foreign workers are in Saudi Arabia, most of them from East and Southeast Asia, including more than one million Yemenis.
Saudi Arabia expelled all Yemeni workers in 1990 after Sanaa voted against U.N. action against Iraq's invasion of Kuwait, accelerating an economic crisis which contributed to the onset of a civil war between northern and southern Yemen in 1994.
The International Monetary Fund expects Yemen's economy to grow 4 percent this year.
However, it has warned that risks to the economic outlook include security concerns, particularly attacks on key oil and electricity facilities, and the political transition after President Ali Abdullah Saleh stepped down in February 2012 following a popular uprising against his rule.
(Reporting by Mohammed Ghobari; Writing by Yara Bayoumy; Editing by Sami Aboudi and Sophie Hares)
This story corrects official's title to adviser to prime minister, not president