- The Saudisation policy of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has coincided with an “expat exodus” and a drop in foreign investment.
- Saudi businesses are complaining that locals don’t want to do “low-status” jobs that many expats worked — creating a real problem for the economy.
- In November, a paper by the Institute of International Finance projected capital outflows in 2017 at $101 billion, 15% of gross domestic product.
- A recent rebound in oil prices has temporarily rescued the ailing Saudi economy, but it will not be a long-term solution.
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman may have portrayed himself as a moderniser rolling back the country’s stultifying social restrictions — but he is struggling to turn the country’s financial fortunes around, with the economy suffering a crisis of confidence.
Hit hard by the oil-price collapse, the kingdom is now experiencing a plunge in foreign investment and high levels of capital outflow as its de facto leader, MBS as he is commonly known, attempts to consolidate power and steer a new economic course.
The uncertainty caused by his ambitious, some would say unrealistic, plans to modernise the economy has been further stoked by Saudi Arabia’s apparent struggle to fill private sector jobs vacated by a growing exodus of expats. As of April, more than 800,000 had left the country since late 2016, alarming domestic companies concerned that the foreigners cannot be easily replaced.
Their departure is part of MBS’s attempt to wean the country off its dependence on oil through economic diversification, a significant element of which involves trying to persuade Saudis in undemanding state sector jobs — which make up two-thirds of domestic employment — and those out of work to take up the new vacancies. The authorities want to generate 450,000 openings for Saudis in the private sector by 2020.
MBS has sought to expedite the exodus of foreign workers, who constitute about a third of the population, by stepping up the process of so-called Saudisation — essentially the creation of a more productive local workforce. He is hiking up levies on companies employing non-Saudis, requiring foreigners to pay fees for dependents, and restricting the sectors in which they can work, with employment in many areas of the retail and service industries now strictly confined to Saudis. The measures are said to be driving the expat exodus, evident in the marked downturn in the rental real estate market and empty shopping malls.