Saudi Arabia: Saudiazation with so many Foreign Workers



As of 2012 there were more than two million foreign workers throughout the Kingdom.  This figure includes expatriates who are in executive level jobs to domestic workers and laborers.  However, the Kingdom is cracking down rapidly and strongly against foreign workers in the Kingdom in its effort to have many of these positions filled instead by unemployed Saudis.  The present unemployment rate of Saudis is 12.5 percent in spite of many of the Saudis having received higher education or technical training.

Most foreign workers in professional sectors are in the Kingdom because they have a skill or expertise that the Kingdom is unable to fulfill with a Saudi national.  However, Saudi Arabia has recognized they must build up their own indigenous workforce and are positioning Saudis to receive skills and expertise presently unavailable in the Kingdom through foreign scholarships abroad with the intent to ultimately replace many expatriate workers.

In the past six years, Saudi Arabia, under the auspices of King Abdullah, has greatly expanded educational opportunities inside the Kingdom within its medical and educational sectors.  There are now multiple universities where Saudis can receive training and education to become physicians, nurses, technicians and educators in a board spectrum of fields.

Although more challenging to fill due to the type of work, Saudi Arabia is making efforts to have Saudis work in positions as drivers or laborers.  Some Saudi women are taking domestic positions as well but they do remain a very small minority due to cultural resistance.

At the same time, the pool of now illegal and unemployed foreign workers in the Kingdom gets bigger each day.   This is in part to either employers terminating contracts with foreign workers and to a degree, due to some Saudis who sponsored expatriates into the Kingdom as their own money making scheme.  In this case, a Saudi would sponsor some expatriate workers who would find their own jobs, usually as drivers, and would pay the Saudi a fee each month for the sponsorship.  Jawazat (entity which controls the iqama residence permit) has been aggressively cracking down on expatriates who have overstayed after their employment has been terminated in addition to the expatriates who have been operating in the Kingdom as “freelancers.”

American Bedu has seen an increase in emails from expatriates who are employed but remaining in the Kingdom.  These individuals all ask for help in finding another job stating that they are responsible for supporting their family back in their home country and that there are less employment opportunities back in their home countries.

It’s a catch-22 in a sense.  It is understandable that Saudi Arabia wants to be more independent and less reliant on foreign help.  Naturally the Kingdom would like to see the funds of the salaries remain in the Kingdom too, supporting the local economy.  Yet it is also easy to feel sympathy for the expatriate workers who came to the Kingdom seeing an opportunity to rise the standard of living for their family back in their home country.

In closing this post, American Bedu is sharing three videos which all depict the fear expatriates feel when they hear the dreaded announcement, “Jawazat.”  (please note – video three is a spoof and pure humor)




9 Responses

  1. Dear Carol. I believe the number of expat mentioned is not correct. Your blog post published June 6, 2009 says 8 mil at that time. Anyhow, very well written as usual.

  2. Honestly speaking, having experienced the way Asian Expats being treated in Saudi. I would welcome this move.

    Of course it will cause short term difficulties for the Asian Expats, but again looking at it positively the Asian expats would eventually do better with their rich experience much more better else where. Also those expats returning back to their homeland will eventually enrich their homeland’s human resources.

    Meanwhile it is only Saudi’s loss with them loosing out a talented foreign work force.

    For example drawing closer parallels with Idi Amin’s Uganda, when the Indian workers were working in Uganda, its economy was good, but as soon as Idi Amin expelled the Indians, it lead to a economic crash, followed by civil unrest and we know what happened rest to Uganda. However the expelled Indians ended up prosperous else where.

    For the Asians I would say, it is gonna be tough for them but eventually they would be benefited enormously elsewhere. After all we got the skills in our hands 🙂

  3. And having seen such inhumane treatment towards Asians, I am happy to see Asians leaving Saudi…

  4. According to the ministry of labor, there are between 8 and 10 million foreign workers the overwhelming majority of whom are over worked, underpaid and have no benefits, modern slavery. Many of them are sponsored by princes who receive generous bribes from employers who need cheap laborers with no responsibility or penalty if they abuse or don’t pay the poverty stricken mostly Asian men and women workers some of who are on call 24 hours seven days a week.

  5. According to a secret wikileaks cable, the Royal family is responsible for the imbalance in labour market. The following assessment is done by US Embassy in Riyadh:

    “”it is common for a prince to sponsor a hundred or more
    foreigners, known here as “freelancers,” who are allowed to find
    their own jobs, most often as servants or unskilled laborors. in
    exchange for the privilege of being in saudi arabia, these
    foreigners pay their royal sponsor a nominal fee–$30 to $150 per
    month, which adds up to a substantial take for someone sponsoring
    over a hundred expats–on average about $10,000 per month per 100
    expats under sponsorship.

    ¶24. (c) we believe that this practice was largely behind the
    rapid growth in the expatriate population, from about 4.2 million
    to 6.5 million, between 1992 and 1995.””


  6. I think the Saudis are seriously overestimating their ability to run anything on their own. They are lazy enough to hire others for hard work and by all accounts too proud to say “thank you”. Because of their long dependence on foreign workers, they lack the expertise, the experience and the efficiency to do anything well. But most of all, they lack work ethics. There are many stories on the Internet about Saudis who are late for work, spend their working days on their cell phones and have extended lunch breaks. Personally, I’d love to see Saudi Arabia completely saudized as this will make the Saudis understand how helpless they are without the foreigners they look down upon.

    Thirteen years ago, I had the dubious honour of having to explain to the Saudi delegation in Doha how to dial Saudi Arabia on their arrival. I was a telephone operator at the five-star hotel they stayed in and I still remember those grunting, unpolished voices that called the switchboard at every thirty seconds demanding to know what to do to make a call to KSA. Without exaggeration, I had to simplify my English to the utmost of my power because none of them spoke English well and they STILL didn’t understand my instruction. My instruction was so simple and clear that even a child would get it: “Press 0, dial the code for Saudi Arabia and then your home number.” That proved to be too much for them.

    Even the trained Arabic operator who worked in the same room and spoke to them in Arabic could not make them understand how to call their country. In the end, we all threw the receivers and started laughing hysterically as we’d never seen so much stupidity in the same place. And those were the Saudis working at a government level! If the Saudi officials are this slow, I can only imagine what will happen when the more common folks take over all the jobs in Saudi Arabia? Saudization? If you say so … keep dreaming, dreaming is good. Personally, I see it as the recipe for total disaster at all levels. They don’t even know how feckless they are yet and they have the courage to bark that they can cope on their own.

  7. I read somewhere that it will take KSA at least 40 years to substantially decrease the number of foreign workers in the Kingdom. Rather than coming down hard on these “illegals” the government should punish the saudi sponsors. These foreign workers would not be here in the first place if not for these local sponsors who manipulate the system.

  8. @ Reality Check,
    “Saudization? If you say so … keep dreaming, dreaming is good. Personally, I see it as the recipe for total disaster at all levels.”

    I agree with you to large extent, and you might like this documentary by the BBC : (The Day the Immigrants Left),

  9. illegal workers are mostly indians and pakistanis

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