Saudi job restriction rule to hurt Nepalis

- Post Report, Kathmandu

Feb 1, 2018-

Saudi Arabia’s decision to reserve many jobs exclusively for its citizens will reduce employment prospects for thousands of Nepalis and also trim foreign remittances into Nepal.

The Saudi government’s decision to restrict job sectors for foreign workers comes into effect this September.

Speaking to the Post, Department of Foreign Employment (DoFE) Spokesperson Mohan Adhikari said, “The Saudi government’s decision to restrict many jobs sectors will affect the number of Nepalis going to Saudi Arabia for employment. Demand for jobs in Saudi Arabia has steadily fallen since last year. It has not recovered well.”

Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Labour and Social Development (MLSD) this month announced a new list of jobs and activities that will be off-limits to foreign workers.

In a statement posted on the ministry’s website, Saudi Arabia Labour Ministry’s Spokesperson Khaled Abalkhail said, “The Minister of Labour and Social Development have issued a decision to restrict work in 12 activities and occupations to Saudi men and women to enable their employment in the private sector.”

From September 11 this year, sales jobs will be reserved for Saudi citizens in four categories: cars and motorcycles; ready-made garments, children’s clothes and men’s accessories; home and office furniture; and home kitchenware.

From November 9, this rule will extend to the sale of: electronics and electric appliances; watches; and eyewear. From January 7, 2019, the rule will apply to the sale of medical equipment and appliances; building and construction materials; car spare parts shops; carpet and floor covering stores; and finally sweet shops.

Recruiting agencies perceive this development as further shrinking of employment opportunities for Nepalis abroad.

Nepal Association of Foreign Employment Agencies President Rohan Gurung said, “Our labour market has taken hit since June 5, 2017 when Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Egypt and other Arab countries clamped air, road and sea transport embargo on Qatar. Now, jobs will be cut off in Saudi Arabia as well, meaning one more country will be closed for Nepalis.”

Gurung says restricting foreign workers from the above mentioned sectors will affect skilled workers more.

“Nepalis with good educational qualification used to work as accountants, engineers, sales, electronics, hardware, contracting companies, cashiers, and supermarkets. They will be deprived of these opportunities as well,” he said.

This decision is a major setback to Nepali labour market. Official data backs this view. Saudi Arabia had the highest number of Nepali migrant workers at 138,529 in the fiscal year 2015-16.

Next year, the country slumped to second most preferred destination for Nepalis, as the number dropped nearly by 45 per cent. In last fiscal year, 76,888 travelled to work in Saudi Arabia.

During fiscal year 2014, more than 520,000 labour permits were issued to Nepalis planning to work abroad, according to an International Labour Organisation report.

In 2014 Malaysia was now the number one destination for Nepali migrants, closely followed by Qatar, Saudi Arabia, UAE and Kuwait.

The same report concluded that overseas employment is heavily male dominated: roughly 95 per cent of all labour permits are given to men. Other data that captures those working in India (where labour permits are not required) or those leaving to work abroad through informal channels indicate that female migration might be as high as 12 per cent of the total workforce abroad.

Saudi Arabia has nearly nine million foreign workers. Their latest decision aims to create more job opportunities for its citizens under the Vision 2030.

Published: 01-02-2018 08:26

More on this story

Saudi Arabia’s plan to reserve jobs in many categories for its citizens, in a bid to bring down unemployment rate to seven per cent, is good decision for the 250,000 graduates entering its job market each year.

However, this decision has grim socio-economic fallout since many foreign workers would be unemployed this September onwards when the decision comes into force.

A former diplomat of Saudi Arabia is not convinced by this decision. Dr. Ali Al-Ghamdi, who specializes in Southeast Asian affairs, raises these concerns in an opinion article published by Saudi Gazette. His views follow Saudi Arabia’s Minister of Economy and Planning Muhammad Al-Tuwaijri’s announcement that the Kingdom will launch 10 programmes within its Vision 2030 over the next few months, besides dispensing with expatriate workers.

In the article Dr Al Ghamdi asks, “How will it be possible to dispense with expatriate workers? Has the ministry carried out studies that indicate the country no longer needs expatriate workers? What are the areas of the economy that can rely fully on a local workforce without depending on expatriate workers?”

Challenging Minister Al-Tuwaijri, he writes, “I think that if the minister examines the five-year plans drawn up by the Ministry of Planning, he will find that those plans have not yet been fully realized. It should also be noted that expatriate workers have played a key role in materializing the major goals of these plans.

“The Kingdom is still in need of expatriate workers, particularly in some sectors, such as construction, industry and maintenance. Is it possible to dispense with expatriate workers in these sectors and what is the current percentage of the contribution of the Saudi workforce in these fields?”

Backing the need for foreign workers, Dr Al-Ghamdi writes, “We need much more time to achieve self-reliance in these sectors. There are also several other important sectors, such as medicine, pharmacy, accounting and marketing where we still need the support of expatriates because of the lack of Saudi manpower.”

On unemployment rate, he writes, “Regarding the minister’s intention to reduce the unemployment rate to seven percent. He did not mention how he will be able to attain this goal with a quarter of a million Saudi graduates entering the labour market every year. I think that his assumption is that these graduates will replace expatriate workers. This is a beautiful idea in theory, but will be difficult to implement.”

He concludes praising the role of foreign workers, especially from the Asian sub-continent saying, “We must not forget the positive role of expatriate workers in the nation building process and in the remarkable growth and development achieved by the Kingdom.”

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