Saudi Arabia sees surge in expats as the kingdom attracts foreign business
Professional expatriates are streaming into Saudi Arabia as the Kingdom eases visa rules and continues to attract foreign business.
Accounting firm Deloitte hosts the majority of its 6,000-strong regional workforce in Saudi Arabia, and says that numbers will “grow significantly year-on-year,” Deloitte Middle East CEO Mutasem Dajani said. “Major transformational projects” in Saudi Arabia and the country’s “unrivalled economic growth” make it an attractive location for expatriates, Dajani added.
While foreign workers have long played a significant role in Saudi Arabia’s economy, social reforms coupled with increasing job opportunities are making it a more attractive destination.
Rached Bejjani, a relocation consultant based in Riyadh, said: “There are a lot more expats coming into the country… these past four or five months, it’s been crazy.”
Preliminary data from the Saudi General Organization for Social Insurance (GOSI) also suggests that there has been a surge in the number of foreign workers in recent months.
The number of non-Saudis signing up to the Kingdom’s social insurance scheme (mandatory for most employees) skyrocketed from 198,803 in Q2 2022 to 1,183,577 in Q3 2022 — nearly a sixfold increase — according to a General Authority for Statistics report.
Several government initiatives have led companies to expand their Saudi operations, including the declaration in February 2021 that businesses must establish regional headquarters in the country by the end of 2023 in order to work on government contracts.
Labour and visa laws relaxed
New labour laws came into effect in March of 2021, allowing employees to switch jobs without having to seek the approval of their employer. A change to the exit and re-entry visa system gave employees more leeway to travel outside of the Kingdom without having to seek permission from their employer on each journey.
The government also introduced a new temporary work visa in early 2021, allowing short-term employees to stay in the country for 90 days.
Historically, the conservative way of life in Saudi Arabia has proved to be a barrier for many foreign workers considering the move.
While the law still places restrictions on certain aspects of life that neighbouring countries do not, notably the open sale of alcohol, other social reforms have eased any potential culture shock that expatriates might face.
Men and women mix freely in Riyadh’s numerous cafes, for example, and the capital’s Tahlia Street has a lively coffee culture with patrons crowding the patios on winter nights.