Which Middle East countries need expats the most?

Features
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Published on 2020-09-29 at 09:00
Last week, Saudi Arabia announced the reopening of its borders from January 2021. Other countries, such as Bahrain, are also doing so, but only to citizens of Middle East countries and visa holders. As a start, however, only short stays will be considered so as to kickstart tourism which has been significantly impacted by the COVID-19 crisis. What about those who would like to relocate to the Middle East?

Who can travel to the Middle East for now?

A few months ago, we gave you an insight into the expat exodus in the Middle East and the consequences on the economies of these countries. As the trend continues, it looks like things are not likely to improve anytime soon. Moreover, countries like the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia have announced that new visas and work permits will not be issued until further notice. Tourism is now their main focus so as to boost their respective economies. Since September 24, the United Arab Emirates is only issuing entry permits. Saudi Arabia will be issuing tourist visas from January 2021, although no date has yet been set. Bahrain also announced the reopening of its borders to citizens of Gulf countries, to travellers who don't need a visa, to holders of valid visas and to those who are eligible for a visa on arrival. Note that travellers need to be tested negative for COVID-19 and have self-isolate upon arrival until they get their test results.

What does this mean for expats?

Last week, Saudi Arabia announced that the employment contracts of foreign medical professionals who have more than ten years of service in the country will not be renewed. However, there are exceptions, especially for highly-skilled and outstanding doctors and nurses. Meanwhile, the United Arab Emirates cancelled the automatic extension of all visas, entry permits and ID cards, which should have been in force until December 2020. Thus, thousands of expats with visas that expired after March 1, 2020, had to leave the country on September 11. Otherwise, there was a fine of 200 dirhams for the first day of overstay and 100 dirhams for every additional day.

However, the UAE took an innovative step to boost its economy. Dubai recently introduced a retirement visa which is renewable every five years. This visa is intended for foreign professionals who are already working in Dubai and who are about to retire. To be eligible, they must be more than 55 years old, and either have savings worth at least one million dirhams or be the owner of a property worth two million dirhams in the country.

Oman still relies on its foreign workforce

Oman is a Middle Eastern country that relies heavily on the contribution of its foreign workforce. In order to support local businesses, the renewal fees for foreigners' work permits have been reduced until the end of December 2020. In fact, they will pay $ 525 compared to $ 782 before this regulation was introduced. The Omani Ministry of Labor also indicated that work permit applications for temporary or part-time employees can be accepted, with fees depending on the number of people a company wishes to hire.

Oman has also been affected by the exodus of expatriates since the start of the COVID-19 crisis. To date, more than 222,300 expats employed in public, private and family sectors were compelled to leave the country after their employment contracts had been terminated. Of these employees, 181,200 worked in the private sector, 30,400 in the family sector, while 10,700 were civil servants. Thus, the employment rate fell by 14.3% across the country.

On the other hand, new regulations were introduced to allow foreign workers to switch employers. Indeed, private companies that currently need labour can request the transfer of a certain number of employees through a written agreement between the two companies. This measure aims not only at preserving employment but also at reducing the number of departures from Oman.

Qatar liberalises its labour market

Unlike the other Gulf countries, Qatar is considering all means to retain its foreign workforce, especially due to the upcoming FIFA World Cup 2020. It's worth noting that 95% of Qatar's workforce and 90% of its population are expats. A new minimum wage was introduced, and this applies to all professions and nationalities. Also, the Kafala system was abolished with the aims of liberalising the local labour market. Therefore, expats who wish to change jobs no longer need the authorisation of their former employer. They are also authorised to switch employers within 90 days of the expiration of their residence permit. According to these amendments, employers who intend to hire expats temporarily must provide the Ministry of Labour with an additional employment contract that has been duly signed by the previous employer and the employee.