Expats in Saudi fear for the future as permitted job sectors shrink

Published:  6 Feb at 6 PM
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Major changes in Saudi Arabia’s job market are causing expats to fear for their futures in the Kingdom.

At the present time, Saudi has the biggest percentage of citizens in the workplace of any GCC country, and is looking to increase the numbers still further. Some 66 per cent of Saudi’s total population are nationals, 70 per cent of whom are below 30 years of age. The population is still growing due to the ‘baby boom’ years following the oil boom, and more and more younger citizens are demanding jobs.

These new job-seekers are facing competition from expats who’ve cornered jobs in numerous sectors and are unwilling to give them up as they’ve worked in their professions for many years, helping grow the country’s economy as a result. For some years, Saudi lawmakers have moved to reduce dependence on foreign expertise and open up the jobs markets to an increasing number of Saudis. Restricting expats from working in certain sectors was one move, and introducing females into the retail marketplace was controversial but is ongoing.

The recent announcement that women drivers, formerly banned from being behind the wheel, will be able to work providing taxis for women passengers was another shock to the Saudi system, causing religious leaders to protest the move without success. Expats at all levels of employment are becoming increasingly worried about the possibility of having to leave Saudi Arabia for pastures new as most job opportunities may eventually be closed to foreigners.

However, Saudi employers are not so sure being forced to let go of their expat staff is such a good business strategy. Complaints are being heard about the lack of discipline and training as well as the general unwillingness to work hard of younger Saudi employees. Business owners sympathise with the government’s position but, given the choice, most would prefer to stay with their tried and true expat staff rather than see them packing their bags and leaving for their home countries.
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