Charity Begins at Home: Saudi Arabia Is Committed to a Policy of Saudisation, Which Will See Its Own Nationals Play an Increasing Role in Its Economy. the Move Will See the Exodus of Tens of Thousands of Foreign Workers but Will Offer a Solution to the Problem of Unemployment, Particularly among the Young

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It used to be a dream job; one expatriates considered themselves fortunate to land. High pay, little or no taxation and twice-yearly, fully-paid vacations to Europe or the United States made working in Saudi Arabia both career enhancing and financially rewarding. But no longer; the welcome mat has been replaced by a 'foreign workers need not apply' sign. And this applies not just to high-income European expatriates, but to the tens of thousands of guest workers from India, Yemen, Bangladesh and the Philippines.

Foreign workers have been a key element in the growth of Saudi Arabia's economy for 71 years, particularly during the 1970s and 1980s when the oil-rich Kingdom was bursting at the scares with large-scale development projects. But now, with a burgeoning work-age population unable to find employment and the oil industry fully nationalised, the need for such foreign workers is greatly diminished. Investment capital and highly specialised expertise is what are now required, not foreign bodies to swell the ranks of the average-skills work force.

Under intense pressure from its own people, the Saudi Government is taking measures to par down the foreign labour force of six to seven million to a more manageable 15% of the indigenous population; at the last count 25m. With less money and less need for the huge infrastructure projects that fuelled its growth in the 1970s and 1980s, Saudi Arabia would prefer to reduce dependence on guest workers leaving younger Saudis to do their jobs.

Saudi Aramco--the formally US-owned national oil company--is by far the single largest employer of Americans in the kingdom. The company has about 2,000 American workers on its books, a not insignificant proportion of the 12,000 Americans that live in Dammam, Riyadh and Jeddah. Most of the others are employed in the financial sectors. British personnel are also prominent. About 30,000 British nationals live in Saudi Arabia, a spokesman for the British Embassy confirmed, 2,500 of whom work for British defence contractor BAE Systems. However, this total of stone 42,000 Europeans pales in comparison with the 5.95m Asian and Arab workers that have flocked to the kingdom, and most of these less skilled individuals are taking up jobs that Saudi nationals are quite capable of filling. The government is aware that with 45% of the population aged under 15, this problem will only get more acute unless it is tackled now.

The jewellery trade is an extremely lucrative business in Saudi Arabia. Many of the middle class and wealthy elite consider gold a safe form of investment, as well as a visible status symbol. Elaborate bracelets, earrings and other personal ornaments have long indicated affection as well as social standing in a society that prides itself on visible displays of wealth and success. Consequently, the jewellery business has thrived, even while the Saudi economy has slipped into recession. It is for this reason that so many foreigners have gravitated to the gold and jewellery trade. The vast shopping malls and marker places are full of Indians, Asians and people of other Far Eastern nationalities. With more than 6,000 registered shops employing a conservative 20,000 foreign staff, the jewellery trade has become a showcase for guest worker success.

To tackle the high unemployment rate in the kingdom the government has turned its attention to the gold and jewellery business as its first target. …