Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Saudi Arabia: They took our jobs...

The Saudi Government has initiated a crackdown on illegal immigrants by raiding shops and schools. The government is focused on improving the employment prospects for its Saudi population by tightening its oversight on immigrants and deporting foreigners with invalid working visas. It is believed that 2 out of 3 employed persons in Saudi Arabia are foreigners. And of the 8 million people who make up the foreign workforce, it is thought that over a quarter of them are working under invalid sponsorship.

Saudis crack down on foreign workers in bid to boost job prospects for locals
Protesters wave their shoes as they protest against deportation by Saudi Arabia of thousands of Yemeni workers Photo: Reuters

According to the article, the crackdown has forced the indefinite closing of more than 250 schools and thousands of convenience stores across the country, as these are staffed mostly by immigrants. Since 2011 the Ministry of Labour has been attempting to implement a “Saudisation” program aimed at boosting local employment. The article claims an unemployment rate of over 12% while other reports put the rate at anywhere from 9% to 28% with the youth unemployment nearing 40%. The prospects are much worse for women who are often not even allowed to work. The government is becoming increasingly concerned with the billions of dollars leaving the country every year in the form of remittances by foreign workers.

Since the introduction of the scheme, companies have been divided into four categories. The categories are color coded ranging from green to red. Green identifies companies considered “excellent” which employ a high number of Saudis and therefore have the opportunity to offer foreign workers employment. Companies coded as red signify a lack of Saudi employees and are restricted from hiring foreign workers and can also face fines for their status. The result has been a shortage of workers in various sectors as foreigners are in fear of taking these positions and the locals are either not qualified for the positions or unwilling to take them.  Many businesses have been negatively affected and the program has created an atmosphere of hostility.

The issue of unemployment, specifically for local Saudis, is one of great importance. The regime has used its vast oil revenues to fund education and appease unrest from the population. Though the regime has provided for education, it is believed that many students are studying non-employable fields, such as religion, which have slim job prospects and opportunities after graduation. This mismatch in the demand for skilled labor and the supply of qualified workers has led to the need to employ foreign workers who possess the necessary qualifications. There is also a discrepancy due to many Saudis feeling that they are overqualified for many positions given their levels of education.

While the program is aimed at improving the job prospects of the local population, there could be some unintended consequences.  There has been an increasing demand by Saudis on their government to provide the jobs that many feel they are entitled to. However, providing a population with free education is a much easier task than creating compatible jobs for them to work in. Many Saudis will likely find that even as illegal workers get deported that they are still not able to obtain the jobs they feel they deserve. This could make the population even more upset. There is also a growing resentment from local businesses and schools due to the burden this program has put on them. Increasing tensions with foreign populations is also a concern as many foreigners feel they are being treated unfairly by the Saudi government.

The Saudi regime has been able to appease social unrest thus far based on a ”rentier” approach of bribing the locals with countless benefits, such as free education, while simultaneously not collecting any taxes or asking much from the citizens. The program is another tool for the regime to pacify the population in the short run by signaling an effort to improve local job prospects. I think the regime should continue deporting illegal workers, but perhaps more moderately,  in order to show the citizens that it is concerned with unemployment while simultaneously being cautious not to upset local businesses and schools, as well as foreign populations, too much. The aim of the program is arguably justifiable, seeking to improve local employment, though some improvements could be made. As Mr. Kabli explains, “We want a parallel system in which a worker, who has a valid iqama (working visa) and permitted to transfer his sponsorship, has a period of three months as a (grace) period.” Allowing for a grace period, as well as other moderate changes to the system, such as toning down the discriminatory redirect, could improve the outcome of the program. Locating those who are working in Saudi Arabia illegally is not necessarily a bad idea, and could actually be what the regime needs in order to improve local Saudi employment. 

A key component of the problem seems to be that Saudis are not receiving an education that makes them competitive in the global economy and believe that their government ought to provide jobs just as they did education. I think the regime should focus on diversifying the educational system and encouraging degrees in more employable sectors. I think they should also loosen the role religion plays in both education and the economy in order to promote more diversity. I also think both the population and regime need to realize that they can only supply the education required for employment, and not the jobs themselves; unless they intend to shift towards a planned economy. The growing number of educated women may also pose a problem for the monarchy unless more opportunities become available to them.While the program is aimed at helping reduce the Saudi unemployment, it has caused many business and schools who employ foreigners to become resentful as well as forced many foreigners to hide in fear, leaving many jobs unfilled.

Murphy, Matthew. "Saudis Crack down on Foreign Workers in Bid to Boost Job Prospects for Locals."The Telegraph. Web. 13 Apr. 2013. <>.


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  2. The crack-down on immigrants in Saudi Arabia seems like something that could definitely hurt this country and is only a distraction for the people. In the articles we read for class about Saudi Arabia, many of the issues of unemployment among the native population stem from the people being in two categories 1)undereducated for the high level, high paying jobs or 2) beliefs that they are above low level, low paying jobs such as service positions and tourism. Thus, cracking down on immigrant and foreign workers does not seem like a solution to decreasing unemployment for Saudis. Instead, it is going to knock out a large amount of employees for the lower level jobs and open up positions that many Saudis are against taking. Also, without education and the necessary skills the Saudi people will still be unable to assume high level positions. The government should instead encourage further development of high level positions by increasing foreign business in the country and diversity in their own economy and then alter the educational system as Matthew mentioned in order to properly educate and train Saudis for the types of jobs and incomes they really want.