"The maximum number of long-term expatriate workers in the Kingdom should not exceed 20 percent of the Saudi population," Al-Eqtisadiah business daily reported Thursday, quoting the Labor Ministry.
The ministry said the long-term plan to cut the number of expatriate workers was aimed at protecting the Kingdom's demographic structure.Currently, the number of expatriates (8.42 million) accounts for 31 percent of the Saudi population of 18.7 million.
"According to the new plan, about 2.9 million expatriate workers would have to leave the Kingdom," the paper said. The ministry's statement came after a meeting of GCC labor ministers decided to step up their campaign to replace expatriates with qualified GCC nationals.
Labor Minister Adel Fakeih, who led the Kingdom's delegation to the GCC meeting in Abu Dhabi, has been spearheading a Saudization campaign through the Nitaqat system -- instrumental in creating more jobs for Saudis in the private sector.
Hesham Rowaihy, a management consultant, emphasized the need for a national succession plan that would oversee a smooth transition of jobs from expatriates to Saudis.
"We need a national succession plan driven by the private sector with the support of the Labor Ministry and other government entities. This will enable the ministry to gradually replace expatriate workers with Saudis," Rowaihy said, adding, "We should strengthen our education and training system in order to supplant the guest workers."
Every company should have a succession plan to replace expatriates with Saudis, he said. "Elevation of the education system is essential to produce qualified Saudis capable of taking up important positions."
Rowaihy believed that the new plan would not affect construction projects that employ thousands of low-paid temporary workers.
The ministry's expat ceiling plan was announced during the Abu Dhabi meeting. "The plan targets long-term workers and exempts those who are employed temporarily to carry out certain projects," a ministry official said.
During the meeting, Deputy Labor Minister Ahmed Al-Humaidan gave a presentation on the Kingdom's recruitment policy. "We allow recruitment of foreign workers after studying actual requirement of a company, including its project size and economic activities."
Al-Humaidan said the ministry differentiates between foreign workers who leave the Kingdom after completing certain projects and those who stay long in the Kingdom for various business activities. "Here's the need fora ceiling for long-term workers," he added.