In a move to raise employment opportunities for locals, Saudi Arabia has initiated a major programme to nationalise 14,000 jobs in the country's information and communications technology (ICT) sector that will dampen the prospects of foreign workers.
The new plan, which is part of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's larger Saudization or Nitaqat programme, will be jointly implemented by the country's communications ministry and a special fund that provides financial support to private agencies that train Saudi nationals, according to a ministry statement.
Like any other national employment programme in the Gulf region, it seems that the latest Nitaqat scheme will result in retrenchment of thousands of expatriates, especially those from the Indian sub-continent.
Nitaqat system, the Kingdom's drive to replace foreigners with Saudis that started in 2011, classifies private sector companies into four categories – platinum, green, yellow and red - on the basis of percentage of local workers. In fact, non-compliance will attract several penal actions, including restriction on new visa clearance and permission for new branches.
The whole localisation programme in the ICT sector, according to media reports, will be implemented in four different phases, with the first phase focusing on technical support functions, which will be followed by data analysis, project managers and call centre workers.
However, the ministry declined to give other details of the programme, including the time-frame.
Saudi, which faces an unemployment rate of as high as 12.3 per cent, has been taking several measures to create employment opportunities for its thousands of youths coming out of colleges every year and thereby reduce unemployment to 10 per cent within two years.
The country's Human Resources Development Fund (Hadaf) plays an important role in providing the required skill for the locals in coordination with the private sector.
Last year, Saudi barred foreigners from working in 12 important sectors, including banking, automobile showrooms and retail shops. These restrictions had affected a sizable portion of expatriate workers, especially unskilled and semi-skilled workers from Indian sub-continent.
The Kingdom had earlier announced its plan to reserve some of the jobs in the hospitality sector to locals by the end of this year. The new restrictions will apply to resorts and hotels of three-star and above, the country's labour ministry had said in June.