Thousands of illegal expatriates were arrested in a series of raids across Saudi Arabia following the expiry of the the amnesty period for foreign workers to legalise work on Sunday, Arab News reported.

According to the report, in Jeddah alone, 3,918 undocumented expatriates  were arrested and in Madinah 300 illegals were held in several police raids.

Scores of business owners across Saudi Arabia closed their shops anticipating raids and “illegal” expatriates stayed home.

Commercial activity at the Jeddah Islamic Port dropped and food prices spiked, the report said. In Jeddah, at least 3,000 Indonesians gathered to protest their inability to obtain legal status. “We had tried for weeks to regularize our status, but officials are insisting we bring our original passports and other documents which we are unable to do,” one illegal worker was quoted as saying.

Abdulmeneem Al-Shehri, head of the Jeddah Labor Office, was reported as saying: “The Ministry of Labor has a strategic plan for its inspection mission. The mission has started and will continue to be conducted by highly qualified staff displaying their official badges.”

The streets of many cities in the kingdom were unusually quiet. Building sites were deserted. Riyadh’s rush-hour traffic flowed smoothly and many shops and market stalls were closed in normally busy neighbourhoods that are home to large numbers of expatriates.

The raids followed a 7-month grace period, which allowed expatriates working illegally in Saudi Arabia to correct their legal status. It is the workers in unskilled positions, part-time office workers under the sponsorship of their parents and international school teachers that have been particularly hard hit, the report said.

According to Al-Shehri, the Ministry of Labor offices will continue to help workers who have already applied for sponsorship transfer to complete the process this week.