x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Foreign workers to get maximum six years in Saudi Arabia

As part of its plan to create jobs for nationals, Saudi Arabia will not renew the work permits of foreign workers who have spent six years in the country, it has been announced.

RIYADH // Saudi Arabia will not renew the work permits of foreign workers who have spent six years in the country as part of its plan to create jobs for nationals, according to the country’s labour minister.

"The current situation calls for strong cooperation between the government and private sector in solving the problem of unemployment with hundreds of thousands looking for work," Adil Fakieh was quoted as saying by the pan-Arab newspaper al Hayat.

Mr Fakieh did not say when the decision would be implemented or whether it would be applied to all foreign workers or to specific jobs.

Although Saudi Arabia sits on more than a fifth of the world's oil reserves, unemployment among nationals is currently 10.5 per cent.

Mr Fakieh said there were currently eight million foreign workers in the kingdom, of whom six million work in the private sector. Remittances from foreign workers total 100 billion riyals (Dh99.1bn) a year.

Saudi Arabia does not regularly publish unemployment data, a sensitive issue that highlights fissures in wealth distribution in the country.

King Abdullah offered Saudi citizens $93bn in handouts in March to stave off unrest rocking other parts of the Arab world. This followed a $37bn package announced in February in an initial move to ease social tensions.

In 1994 the government began a "Saudisation" plan, setting quotas for the number of nationals private firms must hire. The programme failed and Saudis still account for only 10 per cent of employees.

In an attempt to create thousands of new jobs and diversify its economy, Saudi Arabia launched a $400bn five-year spending plan in 2008, the largest stimulus relative to gross domestic product among the world's 20 leading nations.

Companies in the Gulf state favour workers from Asia, prepared to work long hours for low salaries, or well-paid foreign experts.