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Saudi Arabia and Oman – Restrictions on expat employment tightened

Saudi Arabia
Written by
Al Tamimi & Co, the leading choice for companies locally, in the Middle East region and from around the globe.
This article describes further restrictions imposed on expatriate employment in Saudi Arabia and Oman that will take effect in 2018.

Across Gulf Cooperation Council (‘GCC’) countries (i.e. Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and UAE), expatriates are estimated to make up a significant part of the population. The high proportion of expatriates in the workforce has led to a number of changes to the employment regimes in each country and governments have been introducing various ‘nationalisation’ measures to encourage the employment of nationals over expatriates in the private sector workforce.

Developments in Saudi Arabia

In Saudi Arabia, growing concerns over the lack of job opportunities available to Saudi youth and an expected increase in women entering the workforce have led the authorities to introduce measures under the Nitaqat system.

The Ministry of Labour and Social Development (‘MOL’) introduced the Nitaqat system in 2011 to encourage the employment of Saudi nationals in the private sector in Saudi Arabia. It operates by classifying employers into six categories – Platinum, Green (High, Medium and Low), Yellow and Red – depending on various factors such as the size and activity of the company, as well as the percentage of Saudi nationals in the workforce compared to expatriate employees. Further, under the Nitaqat system, certain professions are reserved for Saudi nationals. As it currently stands, 18 roles are restricted to Saudi nationals only.

The MOL has now introduced a prohibition on expatriates from working in 12 additional sectors. The prohibition will be phased in from September 2018 onwards.

The 12 work areas banned for expatriates are listed below along with the dates of their implementation.

Sector Implementation date
Automobile and mobile shops 11 September 2018
Shops selling home furniture and ready-made office materials 11 September 2018
Sale outlets of ready-made garments 11 September 2018
Children’s clothes and men’s supplies 11 September 2018
Watch shops 9 November 2018
Optical stores 9 November 2018
Electrical and electronics shops 9 November 2018
Medical equipment stores 7 January 2019
Outlets selling car spare parts 7 January 2019
Building material shops 7 January 2019
Outlets selling all types of carpets 7 January 2019
Household utensils shops and pastry shops 7 January 2019


Developments in Oman

Conceived along similar lines, Oman’s nationalisation policy, ‘Omanisation’, has been in effect since 1988. However, in the last few years, and since protests erupted in 2011, the government has been making more efforts to enforce Omanisation and provide more job opportunities for its citizens.

On 28 January 2018, the Ministry of Manpower (‘MOM’) issued a temporary 6-month freeze on the issuance of work permits and visas to expatriates in 87 job positions. During this 6-month period, expatriates who are already employed with companies in Oman and carrying out a job on the MOM list may continue to work as long as their work permit and visa are valid. However, if expatriates need to renew their work permits or visas during the 6-month freeze, they will be unable to do so and will therefore have to find alternate work in a different job or will have to leave the country.

The 87 restricted job titles are spread over ten different sectors and include (but are not limited to) the jobs listed below:

Sector Sample affected job titles
Information systems Security and protection specialist, computer maintenance, computer engineer, computer programmer
Media Media specialist, paper dyeing, machine operator, paper folding, colour printing machine operator
Technical areas Electronics technician, building supervisor, construction technician, chemical technical and electrical technician
Airline sector Flight attendant, ground staff, ticket inspector, air traffic control
Accounting and finance Cost accountant, accounting auditing technician, securities technician
Engineering profession Civil engineer, electrical engineer, electronics engineer, mechanical engineer
Insurance professions General insurance broker, vehicle insurance broker
Sales and marketing Sales specialist, commercial agent, commercial manager
Management and human resources Business administration specialist, public relations specialist, human resources specialist, administrative manager
Medical professions Pharmacy assistant, medical dresser, medical coordinator


It is expected that additional measures will be introduced over the next few years.

Samir Kantaria
Samir Kantaria
Partner - Bahrain
Al Tamimi & Co (Bahrain)

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