saudi expat

Hassan Al-Husseini kindly gave permission to post his article about the expatriate population in Saudi Arabia on my blog.  He welcomes comment and dialogue on this topic.

The following is a brief article on Expatriates in Saudi Arabia that I have compiled for possible discussion in the new Saudi Expatriate Forum. I used to work as a Senior Planning Consultant in Saudi Aramco (1979-1998), when I also was a liaison with the Ministry of Planning. Since 1998, I have been a private business and oil consultant, and a freelance editor and writer. Between 1965 and 1979, I was studying in Beirut and the United States, and then worked in King Fahd University of Petroleum & Minerals. During this period, I also worked part-time with Saudi newspapers, radio and television, and other American and Middle Eastern newspapers..

Hassan Al-Husseini,
Email: hassanalhusseini@


In recent years, I have seen the Labor Ministry say that there may be 8.8 million Expats in the country. About a decade ago I saw the number of 6 million, twenty years ago the number was 3 million, and 40 years ago it was about 1 million. So here is an estimated breakdown for 2009, 1999, and 1989:

NATIONALITY 2009, 1999, 1989

Indians 1.5 million, 1 million, 300,000

Egyptians 1.2 million, 1 million, 300,000

Pakistanis 1.2 million, 1 million, 300,000

Filipinos 1.2 million, 600,000, 100,000

Jordanians 500,000, 300,000, 100,000

Syrians 400,000, 300,000, 50,000

Sudanese 300,000. 200,000, 50,000

Lebanese 400,000, 200,000, 50,000

Yemenis 600,000, 100,000, 1 million

Afghanis 200,000, 100,000, 50,000

Bangladeshis 200,000, 150,000, 50,000

Sri Lankans 200,000, 100,000, 100,000

Europeans 150,000, 100,000, 100,000

North Americans 50,000, 50,000, 50,000

Others 700,000, 800,000, 400,000

TOTAL Expatriates: 8.8 million (2009), 6 million (1999), 3 million (1989)

Working Saudi Males 3 million (2009), Unemployed 500,000?

Working Saudi Females 500,000 (2009), Unemployed 2 million?

Total Saudis 16 million includes workers, unemployed, old age, children and about 1 million women who are unwilling or unable of working..

Most of the Expatriated labor breaks down into three language groups: English, Arabic, and other. All the Expatriate labor and their few dependents eventually gain minimum elements of both spoken English and Arabic, but there are over 2 million who cannot read nor write neither English nor Arabic. About 3.5 million can read and write Arabic, and most of the 1.2 million Pakistanis and 200,000 Afghanis can read Arabic letters due to their Islamic and local written alphabet that uses Arabic letters. Of the remaining 4 million, about 2 million can read and write English.

Of the 8.8 million in 2009, about 6 million are Muslim, 1.5 million are Christians, and 1.3 million are Hindus and others. Some of the Muslims, ranging from 1 to 2 million, are illegal immigrants who have come into the country on Hajj or Umra visas, and then stayed on. Some of the other illegals are runaways.

Of the 8.8 million Expatriates, perhaps 6.5 million are bachelor status men, 500,000 married status men, 1 million working women (mostly bachelor status and some married wives), and 800,000 non-working wives and children.

Expatriates are generally hard working professionals, skilled and semi-skilled labor. They fill important jobs throughout the economy that Saudis cannot fill or are unwilling to fill. Expatriates have been critical to Saudi Arabia’s economy since it was established as a Kingdom by King Abdul Aziz 77 years ago, and have contributed to its growth and development continuously.

We are very fortunate to have the Expatriate workforce that has contributed to our national development over the decades. The major challenges we face are our inability to mobilize our female Saudi workforce, and our continued reliance on Expatriate workers who earn low wages to do work that we have decided we don’t want to do. In brief, we need to be more efficient and sophisticated in our use of Expatriate labor, especially considering that we have high female unemployment, and serious shortages of water and electricity that cannot support high population numbers in the Kingdom.


22 Responses

  1. … ranging from 1 to 2 million, are illegal immigrants who have come into the country on Hajj or Umra visas, and then stayed on. Some of the other illegals are runaways

    when they are staying illegally, can they not be extradited?

    are they not burden on the kingdom? if not, whether their stay has been legalised?

  2. Given Saudi Arabia’s relatively high growth rate, it makes little sense to keep relying on foreign labor.

  3. @Tvsrinivas: The Kingdom does indeed try to apprehend and deport the overstayers but it is not always easy. There is a large network of illegals who support one another. And for many, taking the risk and staying, working as an illegal gives them more opportunity than the country they are from.

  4. @Jerry – that is true and part of the reason for the implementation of the Saudiazation project.

  5. […] THE EXPATRIATE POPULATION IN SAUDI ARABIA « American Bedu Uncategorized | […]

  6. A nation can never be great when they have a huge illegal immigrant population. It brings up issues of anchor babies, state welfare, and everything else. It is eye-opening for me tha Saudi has a problem I thought limited to Europe and America. If you ask me, the biggest problem it poses is even less Saudi bride and grooms and lots more intermarriage. Mre angry in-laws…a topic for another post!

  7. @Lisa – Thanks for the suggestion…and yes, the illegal population does contribute to some of the misyaar or mutah marriages which take place.

  8. I read the Wall Street Journal article you linked to, and I found it one of the most interesting articles I have read in a long time! My first reaction was negative, but the more I thought about it, as long as people don’t cross the line into addiction, it’s probably as fun of a leisure activity as anything else (never having played it, or even heard of it until the other day when my friend mentioned it).

    I also decided to do a post on it with my thoughts. Thanks for writing about this interesting subject. I’ve found the comments here about it very insightful, as to how it is affecting society in Saudi!

    Paloma Pentarian, on Women’s Wisdom

  9. Sorry my comment got on the wrong post–I’ll try to repost it on the correct one!

  10. @Hning – thank you and glad you enjoyed!!

  11. Just to add….The number of Indians in Kingdom is 1.75 millions as on June 2009.

  12. im just wondering, why in your list there is no kenyans?

    may i know the population of kenyans in KSA?

    in present, 2009

  13. @Reylet – that question will need to be addressed to the original author of the post who allowed me to post his findings on my blog. Perhaps he did not have data?

    Regards, Carol

  14. I am the original writer of this article, and I appreciate all the responses and comments. Expatriate labor data can vary greatly from year to year depending on economic conditions in Saudi Arabia and in the home countries, as well as restrictions by the concerned governments. For example, the Dollar and Saudi Riyal floated down vs. the Indian Rupee and Filipino Peso in 2007-2008, resulting in many departures. But those currency trends have been reversed in 2009, even as workers of all nationalities have been laid off due to the economic slowdown. So, we have a situation highly in flux. Indeed, the Deputy Minister of Labor this year (2009) estimated the Expatriate population at 10 million!

    Saudi Arabia has workers and visitors from over 100 countries around the world, including Kenya. They are included in the category of “Other”.

    There have been questions about the sources of all this data. There are a combination of often contradictory sources. What I have presented are gross estimates with no pretense of accuracy. Official data can be found in the Annual Reports of the Ministries of Interior, Finance, Planning, and the Saudi Monetary Agency. Some embassies and their websites offer useful information, as well as occasional newspaper and magazines articles. Finally, there are true anecdotal data from residents in major cities, such as Jeddah, Mecca, Taif, Medina, Abha, Riyadh, Dammam, and Hofuf. In general, I don’t think there are public reliable population data in Saudi Arabia.

  15. i live saudi as a legal expatriate i have been born here and my family has been based here for over 4 decades. i have seen changes here there have been arrests and raids on illegal immigrants but to no avail. people just keep coming and overstaying on religious related visas. saudi cant stop people coming here they have a responsinility to give people the right to worship. they have made huge losses as the are the ones who pay for the illigal immigrants to travel back to their countries.

    most of the illegal population is in jeddah because it is the closest place to makkah and medinah. the goverment has started to act more severly because of other goverments saying that saudia arabia is kidnapping children and people which is just absurd!!!. the goverment are extremly good and understanding and major changes have been made under KING ABDULLAH.

  16. My notion is, most illegal expats fall under labor category. Though government cannot have their head count, they can put a rough figure of their population. They have started a strict approach to get the illegal expats head count down which is indeed good. The world is to see good economic changes in Saudi Arabia in the future. Thanks.

  17. This is a wonderful information I have been looking for.
    Thanks Hassan.

  18. Can you please post a link to the source of this information?

  19. Wow, a very tolerant society in comparison to the UK for example, where there are daily instances of violence against minorities even though they foreigners only make up a small percentage of the population, and as such no real threat to the indegenous population. Wonder what the UK regime would do if their immigrant population grew so much?

  20. Well, Abdullah after 5 years in the UK of legal residence you can apply for the passport and you are no longer classed as a foreigner. Thus there are many more such foreigners in the UK that ultimately became absorbed and naturalised.

    In Saudi a foreigner will remain a foreigner period- that is also why I do not think it is very beneficial to work in Saudi.

    Saudi is best for middle aged high caliber individuals that what something more extra than their pension and travel to Saudi or for some very good doctors to go and work in high end hospitals for a very high salary and again for a limited period.

  21. The true population of expatriates/foreigners in KSA exceeds 15 million, and that -in my opinion- includes the illegals. Because, only 6 nationalities are accounted for more than 10 million expatriates/foreigners, Indians 2.2 million, Pakistanis 2 million, Yemenis 2 million (half of them are illegals), Egyptians 1.8 million, Indonesians 1.2 million and Filipinos 1.2 million.

  22. Are these exact figures?

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