Thursday, June 11

Expatriates / Immigration in Saudi Arabia

One thing always makes me curious, why are non-citizens in the gulf countries called as expatriates rather than immigrants? Well, i was told by a friend of mine that while people would love to go and work there because the wages are so high, nobody actually in their right minds would want to live there. But the labour situation in Saudi Arabia for example is a very strange place, the prevailing concept seems to be, we will simply seek rent while most of the work is done by expatriates. If you look at the numbers, you will see what I mean.


In recent years, I have seen the Labor Ministry say that there may be 8.8 million Expats in the country. About a decade ago I saw the number of 6 million, twenty years ago the number was 3 million, and 40 years ago it was about 1 million. So here is an estimated breakdown for 2009, 1999, and 1989:

NATIONALITY 2009, 1999, 1989

Indians 1.5 million, 1 million, 300,000

Egyptians 1.2 million, 1 million, 300,000

Pakistanis 1.2 million, 1 million, 300,000

Filipinos 1.2 million, 600,000, 100,000

Jordanians 500,000, 300,000, 100,000

Syrians 400,000, 300,000, 50,000

Sudanese 300,000. 200,000, 50,000

Lebanese 400,000, 200,000, 50,000

Yemenis 600,000, 100,000, 1 million

Afghanis 200,000, 100,000, 50,000

Bangladeshis 200,000, 150,000, 50,000

Sri Lankans 200,000, 100,000, 100,000

Europeans 150,000, 100,000, 100,000

North Americans 50,000, 50,000, 50,000

Others 700,000, 800,000, 400,000

TOTAL Expatriates: 8.8 million (2009), 6 million (1999), 3 million (1989)

Working Saudi Males 3 million (2009), Unemployed 500,000?

Working Saudi Females 500,000 (2009), Unemployed 2 million?

Total Saudis 16 million includes workers, unemployed, old age, children and about 1 million women who are unwilling or unable of working..

Most of the Expatriated labor breaks down into three language groups: English, Arabic, and other. All the Expatriate labor and their few dependents eventually gain minimum elements of both spoken English and Arabic, but there are over 2 million who cannot read nor write neither English nor Arabic. About 3.5 million can read and write Arabic, and most of the 1.2 million Pakistanis and 200,000 Afghanis can read Arabic letters due to their Islamic and local written alphabet that uses Arabic letters. Of the remaining 4 million, about 2 million can read and write English.

Of the 8.8 million in 2009, about 6 million are Muslim, 1.5 million are Christians, and 1.3 million are Hindus and others. Some of the Muslims, ranging from 1 to 2 million, are illegal immigrants who have come into the country on Hajj or Umra visas, and then stayed on. Some of the other illegals are runaways.

Of the 8.8 million Expatriates, perhaps 6.5 million are bachelor status men, 500,000 married status men, 1 million working women (mostly bachelor status and some married wives), and 800,000 non-working wives and children.

Can you see the problem with having a national labour force like this? there are nearly 8 million working expatriates as compared to 3.5 million working Saudi’s. or just a shade under 50% of the overall population. What on earth is happening there and how do you expect to manage your society on that basis? No simple answers, but here is a good analysis. I quote:

Despite the fact that seven million foreigners work in Saudi Arabia, the country is ironically finding it hard to place the estimated 300,000 unemployed Saudis in the workforce.

A combination of a weak educational system, and an attitude of entitlement brought on by once having had an annual per capita gross domestic product (GDP) of $27,000, has contributed to the current dilemma of Saudi unemployment. Some Saudis also believe that the easy availability of cheaper foreign workers has prevented Saudis wanting employment from finding work.

But the heady days of a welfare state are over. For sure, education all the way up to the university level is still free, and all Saudis have access to free healthcare, but the Saudi government has been steadily privatising everything from the telephone company to desalination plants in an attempt to lighten its burden of a SR660 billion public debt ($176 billion).

With annual per capita GDP now down to $7,500 and one of the world's highest annual population growth rates of 3.2 per cent, the pressure on the government to help needy Saudis has grown exponentially. "When the Saudisation of jobs held by foreigners was first mentioned in 1987 it was like a far-fetched goal, somewhere there on the horizon," said an American teacher who has been teaching Saudis English for the past 20 years.

Not anymore. The government has become very aggressive in cracking down on businesses that are too slow or even reluctant to employ Saudis. An ambitious Saudisation target of five per cent a year for the workforce of every company with more than 100 workers was put into place in 1993. Companies initially complied with the order to show how cooperative they were with the government, but subsequent years saw a slide in compliance.

But as soon as the main problem stays, this is what the government does.

Saudi Arabia has slashed its Saudisation requirement and opened up its market to a larger foreign workforce in a move to encourage contractors to bid for more work in the country.  The cut in the Saudisation quota for on-site workers from 10 to 5% was prompted by a severe labour shortage, which has so far hampered construction activity.  Saudi Arabia's government launched its Saudisation programme in 2003 in a bid to eliminate massive unemployment among Saudi nationals by reducing the country's intake of foreign workers.

Some results are more comical than serious. One day will write more about my experiences with this strange behaviour.

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