Most of these have been drawn by the opportunities for work that exist there, where low salaries or unemployment in their home country make Oman a tempting destination.
The majority of expats living in Oman hail from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, while Moroccans, Jordanians and Filipinos also feature prominently.
New policies have been introduced time and again to try and better handle the influx of workers. Just as importantly, large strides have been taken in the last few years to protect expat workers from unscrupulous employers.
These days the Ministry of Manpower maintains overall control of the workforce and assists by introducing new policies and supporting workers wherever possible. In cases where a worker feels they are being mistreated the Ministry provides help and guidance. In many cases mediation may be possible, or alternatively workers may be permitted to seek work with another employer.
However despite all these positive changes it seems that the Omani government is still struggling to maintain its’ expat workforce. The latest official statistics suggest that almost 60,000 workers absconded in the first six months of the year – a figure equivalent to 3% of the expat workforce.
Clearly such behaviour can lead to a number of issues. Firstly, productivity can be hit hard when employees do not turn up to work. Many employers have willingly allowed workers time off to celebrate religious festivals or visit family overseas but a worryingly large number never return to work.
Just as concerning for the Omani government is quite where these workers go. In almost every case an expat’s visa is tied to their employment. When they abscond their visa essentially becomes null and void. Yet it seems like a lot of workers are going “underground” to seek higher wages “off the books”.
This is particularly troublesome when the Ministry of Manpower actively assists workers in transferring their sponsorship from one employer to another in a legal manner.
What is to be done about the problem? Until the end of July this year the Omani government offered an amnesty to illegal workers, permitting them to leave the country without penalty. Now this term has passed, however, there are concerns that many illegal workers still remain in the country.
It seems possible that – as in the past – the government will be forced to crack down on illegal workers and that further action in this regard in likely.