Veteran Saudi journalist Khaled Almaeena wrote an article, “Our thanks to all expatriates!” (Nov. 30), in the Saudi Gazette, in which he recalled that he had had several calls from expatriate friends who were dismayed at their portrayal in the media, particularly after the Saudization program began and was followed by the Nitaqat system (the Kingdom's program for measuring nationalization). He said: “Among the things that were upsetting to them was to read allegations that they held on to their jobs through ‘unfair means’, transfer billions abroad, and that some of them have a haughty attitude.”
Almaeena also indicated that he strongly believed that providing or creating jobs by the government was necessary and nationals have first go at these openings, and that the whole issue should be dealt with in a proper manner.
He also referred to media reports of expatriates transferring billions of riyals overseas and asked those writers - in a satirical manner - if they realized how much expatriate workers contribute to the Kingdom’s GDP, and that they cannot own residential property or make investments and that it was not easy for them to bring their families to the Kingdom. He noted that, in such a scenario, it is quite natural for them to remit funds to their loved ones as they are the breadwinners of the family.
What prompted me to comment on the observations of Khaled Almaeena was that I have encountered similar resentment from many expatriate friends living in the Kingdom, as well as from those who had worked in the Kingdom and then returned to their countries where I worked for some time. Some journalists and media friends from these countries used to criticize me sharply on certain occasions. On such occasions, I tried to emphasize that the government and people of Saudi Arabia have high regard for the efforts made by all expatriates in further boosting the progress, development and prosperity achieved by the Kingdom. I reiterated that we are still in need of them and their endeavors to continue the nation building and development process and that they have the right to transfer the money earned by them to their countries in order to support their families.
Of course, there are some simple-minded people, who are rigid in their thinking and who have neither obtained an adequate education nor a proper mindset and therefore do not have the ability to understand things well.
However, such people who think that the country could dispense with expatriates and their services represent only themselves and do not represent the Saudi people.
I agree with Khaled Almaeena when he said that Saudi hospitals need nurses from the Philippines and doctors from the South Asian countries, mainly to work in remote areas where Saudi doctors are not willing to work. Apart from this, take the case of street cleaners who engage in a difficult job from dawn to dusk and draw a low salary. In their absence, our streets would be filled with litter. Their efforts are all the more necessary because of the absence of a sense of responsibility on our part as we dispose of waste by throwing it from cars or dumping it in unauthorized places, resulting in unpleasant odors and creating severe hygienic problems.
It is said that there are about a million unemployed Saudis registered in the Hafez program while seven million foreigners are working in the country. There is a lot of disinformation and lack of precision in this talk. If we take this statement seriously and conduct a logical and objective analysis, we would realize that more than 70 percent of those registered in the Hafez program are women, and most of these ladies are housewives and are not prepared to work. And those women who are ready to work will not accept all types of work but instead will look for a job that is suitable to their nature as well as to their social status and traditions.
The problem of unemployment among Saudis is a complex problem and its solution requires a comprehensive national effort with the involvement of various agencies, such as the ministries of education, higher education and labor as well as the Technical and Vocational Training Corporation, and this must be done in conjunction with the private sector, especially major companies, such as Saudi Aramco and SABIC. This should involve implementing giant projects in the production sector in order to create job opportunities for Saudis.
Leaving this problem to the Ministry of Labor alone as well as to its endeavors, represented by the Nitaqat system and the new move to impose a levy on companies and establishments where the number of foreign employees is greater than the number of Saudis, will inflict great harm on small and medium enterprises (SMEs). No matter how many efforts these firms make to implement these systems, it will be impossible for them to find Saudis to work in cafes, restaurants, barber shops and other small enterprises. And this will lead to losses in business and eventually to the closure of these shops, a prospect that nobody wants to happen.
Finally, I add my voice to the voice of Khaled Almaeena to call on all Saudis to sit and ponder for a while and join us in a vote of thanks to all the wonderful men and women who came from around the globe and helped in building our country, reminiscent of what the Prophet (peace be upon him) said: “One who does not thank people, would not thank God.”
(Dr. Ali Al-Ghamdi is a former Saudi diplomat who specializes in Southeast Asian affairs. He contributed this article to the Saudi Gazette on Dec. 12, 2012)