Do we still need expats?

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Saudi Arabia’s Minister of Economy and Planning Muhammad Al-Tuwaijri has affirmed that Saudization is a goal and that there can be no dispute about it. However, total Saudization of the labor market can only be achieved in a phased manner with an evaluation after each phase. He also highlighted the importance of addressing the tasattur (cover up) issue in a strategic way because of its economic, social and security impact on the nation.

Minister Al-Tuwaijri made the remarks during a recent meeting with the chairman and members of the board of directors of the Riyadh Chamber of Commerce and Industry in the presence of a number of local businessmen at the chamber’s headquarters. According to a report published in Okaz newspaper, the minister stated that the private sector has prominence in all deliberations pertaining to implementation of the Kingdom’s Vision 2030. He said that the Vision’s plans are proceeding in accordance with specific yardsticks. The minister pointed out that some of the challenges facing the Vision are summarized in three pivotal points: communications; mega projects and the capability to implement them; and the cost of these major projects and their funding channels.

He said that a new law would be adopted soon to ensure participation of both the public and private sectors so as to improve the value of the economy. According to the minister, privatization will be open to both domestic and foreign private investors. He also unveiled plans to privatize some key sectors in the near future, including desalination plants, mills, airports and transport, in addition to the health sector, which would be partial in the beginning. Al-Tuwaijri emphasized that the state is keen not simply on the growth of the economy but also on the quality of its growth. He added that work is underway to upgrade policies by carrying out studies on all aspects, including their positive and negative effects.

I would like to draw attention to a previous statement of Al-Tuwaijri with regard to Saudization. He said: “Dispensing with expatriate workers is a priority of his ministry and that the projects will be implemented by taking advantage of local capabilities.” This is undoubtedly a bold step to be reckoned with, and I thank him for that. However, we have to recognize the fact that the distance between our plan of dispensing with expatriates and its implementation is not a short one. As for expatriate workers, they have contributed immensely in implementing the development programs that enabled our country to scale the ladders of progress and development.

Therefore, we must thank them and stop the accusations that they are taking the job opportunities that otherwise would go to Saudi citizens. We also have to stop blaming them for transferring money to their countries. Some of these accusations are irrational and unreasonable. Expatriates came to this country in a legal way with valid visas and on labor contracts. They have proved their commitment in serving the country while staying in the Kingdom up to the moment when we no longer need them. Hence, those whom we are sending back to their countries must be given all their rights and they should be treated in a dignified way during their stay in the country.

In this way, they will be able to go back to their country satisfactorily and grateful to the host country, with sweet memories about this nation. This is what must be done. As far as saying that they are transferring huge sums of money to their countries, we can say that this is their right as a result of their sweat and toil. They are entitled to transfer the portion of money that they have earned after meeting their local expenses. They are living away from their country, suffering the pains of alienation and facing difficulties at their places of work. They have suffered to earn money in order to support their family and relatives back home and save some money to spend in their old age.

Okaz also published another report saying that as many as 466,000 expatriate workers left the Saudi labor market during the last quarter of 2017. Citing figures released by the General Authority for Statistics, the report showed that 100,000 Saudis entered the local market during the same period but it did not mention the number of Saudis who replaced the expatriate workers who left the Kingdom. It is expected that the percentage of Saudis who replaced expatriate workers is very small. Most of these expatriates left the Kingdom on final exit following the imposition of a fee on them by the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs. Moreover, the fees imposed on their dependents also forced them to leave the Kingdom. This is clearly the case for those expatriates who have several children but only a limited income and as such can no longer afford to keep their family in the Kingdom. Some of them have sent their wives and children home and have remained in the Kingdom alone.

Those who could not live alone after sending their family home opted to accompany them on final exit. This has resulted in a large number of residential apartments remaining vacant with a drop in rates of house rent.

Dr. Ali Al-Ghamdi is a former Saudi diplomat who specializes in Southeast Asian affairs. He can be reached at algham@hotmail.com


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