Barely a month goes by without us reporting on some new strategy being employed by Gulf nations to control expat working numbers. These nations – such as Oman, the UAE and Qatar – face a constant balancing act, seeking to recruit only the most able and qualified individuals to their countries, while minimizing local unemployment. No wonder it’s such a complex juggling act, requiring constant innovation.
Just recently, for example, we reported that Kuwait was considering reducing expat residency lengths and expelling 25% of their expat teachers to make way for more Kuwaiti nationals. Even Saudi Arabia, long a major expat employer, has revealed that it is considering options for curbing the numbers of expat workers making their way to the Kingdom.
The latest data, however, suggests that things may not be quite what they seem.
According to official statistics it seems that expat workers are still piling into Saudi Arabia, making full use of the tax-advantaged status that many enjoy, combined with strong employment opportunities.
The data shows that Saudi employees in the private sector, for example, only make up 15% of the total. Currently 1.6 million Saudis are employed in such positions, while expats make up an incredible 8 million workers. Such a disparity has long been a cause for concern, especially where expats are employed in lower-skilled positions.
Now, however, it seems that despite all these efforts, the number of expat workers has steadily increased throughout 2015. According to official figures, employers requesting visas for foreign workers in 2015 increased by 60% over the previous year. This is a massive increase in the expat work force, and one that is causing concern in many quarters.
According to Abdullah Al-Shaddadi, Namaa Group Head, there are increasing numbers of native Saudis successfully graduating from local universities, but these individuals are struggling to find gainful employment. If the figures are to be believed, less than half of Saudi graduates are able to secure work on leaving academia.
The truth isn’t clear. On the one hand many experts claim that the expat workforce are doing jobs that graduates could easily fill. On the other hand, it has been claimed that the Saudi Arabian economy is growing so fast as to make experienced expat workers a necessity. They point to the way in which Saudi Arabia simply doesn’t possess enough high-level candidates to fill the required roles, and so many employers are forced to recruit outside the Kingdom.
This is sure to be a heavy blow to the Saudi government, which has worked so hard to stem these levels in recent years. We can no doubt expected further comment – and policy adjustments – in the near future in the hope of addressing this escalating situation.