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July 2004, Volume 11, Number 3

Middle East

Saudi Arabia issued 600,000 work permits to foreigners in 2003, and has been issuing 60,000 work permits a month in 2004. Many of the work permits issued to Saudi Arabians are sold to brokers who use them to get foreign workers into the country, even though no jobs are waiting for them.

There are 24 million people in Saudi Arabia, including six million foreigners; the government's goal is to have fewer than 20 percent foreigners by 2013. Saudi Arabia is trying to reduce its dependence on foreign workers by not allowing them to work in certain sectors while encouraging young Saudis to accept private sector jobs that require more work and lower wages than the government jobs they prefer.

There were attacks on foreigners working in May 2004 aimed at driving all "infidels" from Islam's birthplace; 22 people died, bringing the death toll in the past year to 75. The six million foreigners in Saudi Arabia- a third of residents--include 30,000 Britons and 35,000 Americans, and many made plans to leave following the attack. If these expatriates leave, Saudi Arabia will likely hire Asians to replace them-many earn three or four times what they could earn at home.

The United Arab Emirates has three million expatriates and reported that 700,000 of its migrant workers have less than a high school degree, including 350,000 with only primary schooling and 50,000 who are illiterate.

Israel's Interior Minister Avraham Poraz said that the children of illegal foreign workers ten and older would not be deported until the country considers a plan for naturalizing them. Poraz wants children born in Israel to foreign parents, and those who arrived very young, to be allowed to become citizens of Israel.

Neil MacFarquhar, "Saudi Attack Spurs More U.S. Workers to Pull Up Stakes," New York Times, June 3, 2004. Nissar Hoath and Shireena Al Nowais, "Concern over increase in foreign labor," Gulf News (UAE), May 21, 2004.