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June 1998, Volume 5, Number 6

Foreign Workers in the Middle East

Foreigners illegally working in Oman after May 1, 1998 face one month in jail, a fine of 100 rials ($260) and deportation; 24,000 illegal foreigners left in 1998, and 16,000 new foreign workers arrived to replace them. There are 600,000 foreigners among the 2.2 million residents of Oman, including illegals, with 500,000 foreign workers in the private sector, compared to 40,000 Omanis.

A study released on May 6 by the Economic and Social Commission for West Asia, a UN agency, found that Gulf Arab states are turning to the private sector to find jobs for their citizens. The study concluded: "The problem is not only that the private sector is reluctant to employ nationals, but these nationals prefer to work in the public sector because it offers much higher salaries and more attractive financial benefits."

Foreigners, mostly Asians, make up more than half the Gulf Arab states population of 22 million. Foreigners account for more than two-thirds of the residents of Kuwait, Qatar and the UAE, and up to 90 percent of their work forces.

The study recommended that Gulf nations find ways to require the private sector to offer jobs to nationals. Saudi Arabia, for example, gives preference to companies that employ Saudis in government contracts. Kuwait is studying measures to make recruitment of foreign labor more expensive by forcing companies to increase health and other benefits for foreign workers and by raising visa and residence fees.

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) plans to introduce measures making it compulsory for the private sector to hire nationals, including a ban on the recruitment of expatriates for jobs that can be filled by natives. In return, the government plans to encourage companies who hire UAE nationals by giving them preference in government contracts.

Nadim Kawah, "Gulf states turn to private sector to create jobs for nationals," Agence France Presse, May 6, 1998.