Up to three million expat workers will be forced to leave Saudi Arabia over the next few years under a new plan to cap their number, it was reported on Friday.
The kingdom's Labour Ministry has put a 20 percent ceiling on the country’s guest workers in its latest bid to help find jobs for Saudi nationals.
“The maximum number of long-term expatriate workers in the Kingdom should not exceed 20 percent of the Saudi population,” a spokesman from the ministry was quoted as saying in Saudi daily Arab News.
Citing a report in the Al-Eqtisadiah business daily, it said the long-term plan would cut the number of expat workers which currently stands at 8.42m, 31 percent of the Saudi population of 18.7m.
According to the new plan, about 2.9m expat workers would have to leave the kingdom, according to the ministry’s statement which came after a meeting of GCC labour chiefs.
Under the country's new Nitaqat system, companies are to be labelled “green”, “yellow” or “red” depending on the number of Saudis working for them.
Companies in the “yellow” category will not be able to extend their foreign employees’ work visas beyond six years while “red” companies will not be able to renew their foreign workers’ visas at all.
“Green” companies will be entitled to a number of benefits, such as expedited services for foreign workers’ visas and the ability to change the job categories of foreign workers into job categories reserved for Saudis.
Earlier this month, Saudi Arabia, which had a 10.8 percent unemployment rate in July, said it will begin to pay unemployment benefits for the first time from November.
The government from next year also will seek to encourage the hiring of more Saudi nationals in the kingdom’s private sector, Labour Minister Adel Fakieh said in comments published by newswire Bloomberg.
Separately, the ministry said it intends to launch 30 new initiatives as part of its drive to create jobs for Saudi university graduates.
Fakeih said they would include efforts to develop the skills of Saudi workers, informing the private sector about qualified Saudi jobseekers and opening new opportunities for women.