Saudi labor minister meets with tweeps over expat workers fees


Saudi Arabia’s ministry of labor invited for the first time micro-blogging website Twitter users to a one-to-one meeting after news of increasing expats labor card fees created uproar among the kingdom’s Twiteratis.

The ministry recently decided that private sector employers who hire more foreigners than Saudis must pay a fee of $640 a year for each additional expats when they renew an expat’s on-year residency permit.

The price increase raised the ire of Saudi businessmen who attacked the ministry’s decision. This prompted Labor Minister Adel al-Fakeih to hold a meeting with Twitter users to explain the ministry’s point of view and the implications of the increase.

The minister held a three-hours-long meeting with the Twiteratis trying to explain the ministry’s decision, saying it aims to find all possible ways to offer Saudi citizens the most suitable job opportunities. Media outlets, however, were not allowed to attend the meeting.

“The meeting establishes a culture of dialogue between officials and citizens,” Khaled al-Ulqomi, a Saudi businessman and a Twitter user, told Al Arabiya.

“We appreciate the minister’s initiative and courageous step,” he said in a phone interview, adding that he made several suggestions regarding the labor market in the kingdom during the meeting.

Al-Fakeih said in January that the largest Arab economy needed to create 3 million jobs for Saudi nationals by 2015 and 6 million by 2030, partly through “Saudi-izing” work now done by foreigners.

In an economy in which imported labor fills nine in 10 private sector jobs, according to central bank data, many companies fear the new fees will hit their businesses hard by adding to their costs and shrinking the pool of available workers.

The new rule is aimed at reducing unemployment of 10.5 per cent among Saudi nationals by getting them into jobs now performed by 8 million expats in the country, a long-term Saudi goal given fresh impetus by the uprisings in Arab countries last year that were partly driven by high unemployment.

The requirement covers everyone from expat professionals to hospital workers and laborers on construction sites and in addition to quotas already in place to limit foreign staff numbers.