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  15 February 2012  | 15:46  . ET

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Saudi-born expats an asset, not a liability
Published : 7/8/2011 08:25



Nations have to take certain decisions in the larger interest of their countrymen.

But while doing so they tend to ignore those who may not be in the mainstream but play a crucial role in the development of the country's economy.

The same has happened with expats born and brought up in the Kingdom. The new labor policy has marginalized and further alienated educated Saudi-born expats. The new policy has totally ignored their Saudi-born status, vast local market knowledge, understanding of the local customs and the dynamics of private sector that can turn into an asset if utilized properly. Most Saudi-born expats are passionate about playing a role in the Kingdom's development. They are willing to contribute to the prosperity of Saudi Arabia and share their foreign-acquired knowledge and experience with their Saudi brothers and sisters. They would like to be considered as synergy and value addition to the local economy rather than a competition.

Some of the educated expat families have been living in Saudi Arabia for the past 50 or 60 years and now their third generation is serving the Saudi economy. They might not carry the Saudi passport but they do carry with them the same sincerity, patriotism and love for the country which any of their other Saudi brother or sister carries. Most of them have contributed to the development of Saudi Arabia as do Saudi nationals.

No doubt, it is necessary to devise a policy taking into account the current demographic and political situation in the region and the Kingdom has rightly done so. But the policy should not turn a blind eye to certain elements in the society that have been instrumental in the development of the country.

The current policy might serve some short-term objectives but in an ever-changing business environment the real success would be if Saudi nationals could secure jobs in New York, London, Hong Kong or Shanghai as they are getting in Jeddah, Riyadh or Dammam by the dint of sheer hard work or capability. For that to happen the authorities should take care of their nationals not from the day they graduate from university but from the day they enter the school. It is quality education and training that will make Saudis capable of competing globally. That will be the day of celebration.

It would be far better to bake more cakes or increase the size of the cakes in hand rather than divide the same cake in more slices. The government should aim at encouraging entrepreneurial culture, supporting new venture creation, drafting a new SME policy, providing soft loans, developing strategic partnerships with leading MNCs for transfer of knowledge, promoting Saudi brands globally, focusing on developing soft skills and ensuring to build a true knowledge society by 2020.

Private sector recruitment process globally is driven by skills, capability, competence, time management, relevant industry knowledge that can translate into profit, growth, higher market share for the companies and not by nationality or gender. Many Saudi-born expats are more capable than their Saudi brothers and sisters.

Saudi-born expats can be an asset for the economy and can play a crucial role in the development if provided a fair chance as some of them have more knowledge about Saudi market than they have about their own native countries. These people besides sharing their knowledge can be a commercial link-pin between Saudi Arabia and their native countries in developing bilateral trade, investment, cultural and social ties.

A Saudi-born expat, whose family has been in the Kingdom for over 60 years, conceded he was worried he might have to leave the Kingdom because the company he is working for is in the red category as per the Nitaqat policy. And he may be laid off if the company decides to recruit a Saudi in his place. In that event he will lose his sponsor and eventually the right to live in the Kingdom.

There are so many expats who have been in the Kingdom for decades and whose third generation is still on iqamas and at the mercy of the sponsors. I hope this segment of society will get due consideration by the authorities and the mainstream society. If integrated into the mainstream, these people can play a role in strengthening the Saudi economy.

I hope this asset and knowledge pool will not lose its roots in Saudi Arabia and swept away by new policy.

— Faisal Tahir Khan is an entrepreneur and consultant based in Jeddah. He can be reached at ftkhan@gmail.com



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