Working in Saudi Arabia?
Working in Saudi Arabia
At a Glance:
- The new drive to diversify Saudi Arabia’s thriving economy has resulted in a lot of new job opportunities, but with the push for Saudization, finding work in Saudi Arabia could prove challenging for expats.
- It is not uncommon for a business to be kept within the family in Saudi Arabia. Nepotism is very common there so bear this in mind if you’re complaining about your boss to a colleague.
- Be prepared for compliments and learn to read between the lines – the Saudi population aren’t keen to discuss the negatives so try and maintain a perspective outlook.
There are more than ten million foreigners based in the Desert Kingdom. Most of them are from South East Asia and find employment as manual laborers. Roughly 125,000 foreign residents from Western nations are estimated to be working in Saudi Arabia as well.
These numbers are unlikely to decline in the near future, although the government is busy improving job prospects for its own people, by investing in the education system and introducing quotas to regulate the number of expats in Saudi businesses. Since November 2012, employers were forced to pay heavy fines if they hired too many foreigners, and not enough Saudis. On top of this, the government has just launched a new ‘Saudization’ plan that will support Saudis from a young age, preparing them for working life. The hope is that expats will no longer be needed if the Saudi population is properly trained.
World Class Economy
Holding about 18% of the world’s proven petroleum reserves, it is unsurprising that the kingdom’s economy is heavily based on oil. To be precise, petroleum accounts for 85% of export earnings, 73% of budget revenues, and 50% of the GDP. This partly explains why Saudi Arabia is one of the few high-income countries with a very strong industrial sector.
Thanks to recent diversification efforts to reduce the economic dependency on oil exports, the service sector in Saudi Arabia has really taken off. In 2015, the service sector generated roughly 51.8% of the GDP, thus making the tertiary sector one of this most important sources of income for the national economy. Given the climate and topography, agriculture doesn’t stand a chance of playing a major role, although there have been some government efforts to make the populace less dependent on food imports.
The manufacturing industry has also benefitted greatly from the diversification attempt. In addition to the local petrochemical industry, particular attention has been given to power generation, telecommunications, and natural gas exploration. The government is also investing over 70 billion USD into the building of six economic cities. The hope is that creating a sort of “industry huddle” will motivate the firms, boosting productivity and creativity.
Getting to Know the Industry
While it is not the easiest country to find work in, there are plenty of opportunities for working in Saudi Arabia if you can offer a high level of expertise and experience. Large numbers of expats have jobs in engineering (particularly in the oil industry), IT, healthcare and medicine, banking and financial services, teaching (especially women), telecommunications, or construction. Since Saudi Arabia is also increasing investment in urban planning, transport infrastructure, food processing, and water resource management, foreign specialists with experience in such jobs might also have good chances.
Most expats working in Saudi Arabia were contracted while still in their previous city of residence. It is very rare, indeed almost impossible, for foreigners to come to, say, Riyadh or Jeddah without an offer in order to start looking for work there. The Saudi government’s new push for “Saudization” has also further complicated the situation.
The recruitment for managerial positions is mainly done by private consultants or agents representing Saudi employers in big cities across the globe. Intra-company transfers within multi-national corporations also account for a considerable share of assignees from abroad. A good first step for anyone interested in working in Saudi Arabia would be to contact their country’s chamber of commerce.
Work Permits and Sponsors: Stay on their Good Side
You cannot secure a work permit unless you have a concrete employment offer. In fact, individuals cannot apply for a permit themselves; their sponsor must apply for one on their behalf. Every expat has a sponsor – usually their employer – who acts both as a guardian and a guarantor during their time working in Saudi Arabia. The function of a sponsor can be held by individuals, companies or institutions, such as your chamber of commerce in Saudi Arabia, or a business associate or partner. Some individuals may expect remuneration for their services.
Your sponsor will probably be your main contact in the kingdom, and can help you with many of the issues you may encounter, from getting your visa to helping you find accommodation. At the same time, they are responsible for you and thus have a strong interest in both your well-being and your good behavior. Any offence you cause while living and working in Saudi Arabia may reflect badly upon your sponsor.
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