Is Saudi Arabia unraveling as an expat professional destination?

Published:  5 Sep at 6 PM
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What next for expat professional prospects versus Saudization?

In the modern world, it’s sometimes difficult to determine between real and fake news, but numerous recent reports might suggest Saudi Arabia as well as the UAE are unravelling as an expat professional destination. Vision 2030, the brainchild of the kingdom’s Crown Prince Mohammed, was initiated as an attempt to wean the country off its dependency on oil revenues as well as promoting full employment for Saudi citizens, but is now facing a self-made employment crisis due to its Saudization policy at the same time as foreign direct investment is stalling.

Literally hundreds of thousands of expats have already left the kingdom, mostly due to the levying of various fees on foreign workers, with official figures showing 1,500 leaving every day for the past two years. Most were on lower incomes, but the hope of replacing them with Saudi nationals doesn’t seem to have materialised as Saudi unemployment figures have risen by 12.9 per cent over the same period, suggesting the job openings created by the expat exodus don’t appeal to locals. It’s also becoming evident that employers are circumventing Saudization by hiring Saudis in fake jobs, paying them token amounts and not expecting them to turn up for work. According to research, out of 200,000 so-called private sector jobs only 20,000 were real.

Whilst the above might seem to have no relevance for expat professionals in better-paid positions, warnings are already being heard about the likelihood of junior jobs and some senior positions being filled by Saudis via a process of firing and hiring. SMEs make up 90 per cent of Saudi private sector companies, with the newly-imposed extra costs of employing foreigners affecting profits by hitting on running costs. However much employers would like to keep expats on, increasing pressure from Saudization is likely to lead to inevitable conclusions.

Smaller, privately owned internationals schools in the Kingdom are already feeling the effects of the expat exodus, with a 30 per cent decline in student numbers due to expatriates leaving Saudi for more stable jobs elsewhere. The education sector provides jobs for tens of thousands of degree-qualified, experienced expat teachers and administrators, but creeping Saudization is now evident, with a recent report states that 30 per cent of private schools have already closed due to problems caused by Saudization.

Given the above, expat professionals could be forgiven for feeling they’re no longer welcome in a place to which they’ve given time, talent and loyalty over a period of years in exchange for good salaries and an enviable lifestyle. At one time, the Gulf states in general were a prize worth working for, but nowadays there are many other up-and-coming expatriate destinations with equal career opportunities, generous salaries and far less hassle.
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