saudi expat

Hassan Al-Husseini kindly gave permission to post his article about the expatriate population in Saudi Arabia on my blog.  He welcomes comment and dialogue on this topic.

The following is a brief article on Expatriates in Saudi Arabia that I have compiled for possible discussion in the new Saudi Expatriate Forum. I used to work as a Senior Planning Consultant in Saudi Aramco (1979-1998), when I also was a liaison with the Ministry of Planning. Since 1998, I have been a private business and oil consultant, and a freelance editor and writer. Between 1965 and 1979, I was studying in Beirut and the United States, and then worked in King Fahd University of Petroleum & Minerals. During this period, I also worked part-time with Saudi newspapers, radio and television, and other American and Middle Eastern newspapers..

Hassan Al-Husseini,
Email: [email protected]


In recent years, I have seen the Labor Ministry say that there may be 8.8 million Expats in the country. About a decade ago I saw the number of 6 million, twenty years ago the number was 3 million, and 40 years ago it was about 1 million. So here is an estimated breakdown for 2009, 1999, and 1989:

NATIONALITY 2009, 1999, 1989

Indians 1.5 million, 1 million, 300,000

Egyptians 1.2 million, 1 million, 300,000

Pakistanis 1.2 million, 1 million, 300,000

Filipinos 1.2 million, 600,000, 100,000

Jordanians 500,000, 300,000, 100,000

Syrians 400,000, 300,000, 50,000

Sudanese 300,000. 200,000, 50,000

Lebanese 400,000, 200,000, 50,000

Yemenis 600,000, 100,000, 1 million

Afghanis 200,000, 100,000, 50,000

Bangladeshis 200,000, 150,000, 50,000

Sri Lankans 200,000, 100,000, 100,000

Europeans 150,000, 100,000, 100,000

North Americans 50,000, 50,000, 50,000

Others 700,000, 800,000, 400,000

TOTAL Expatriates: 8.8 million (2009), 6 million (1999), 3 million (1989)

Working Saudi Males 3 million (2009), Unemployed 500,000?

Working Saudi Females 500,000 (2009), Unemployed 2 million?

Total Saudis 16 million includes workers, unemployed, old age, children and about 1 million women who are unwilling or unable of working..

Most of the Expatriated labor breaks down into three language groups: English, Arabic, and other. All the Expatriate labor and their few dependents eventually gain minimum elements of both spoken English and Arabic, but there are over 2 million who cannot read nor write neither English nor Arabic. About 3.5 million can read and write Arabic, and most of the 1.2 million Pakistanis and 200,000 Afghanis can read Arabic letters due to their Islamic and local written alphabet that uses Arabic letters. Of the remaining 4 million, about 2 million can read and write English.

Of the 8.8 million in 2009, about 6 million are Muslim, 1.5 million are Christians, and 1.3 million are Hindus and others. Some of the Muslims, ranging from 1 to 2 million, are illegal immigrants who have come into the country on Hajj or Umra visas, and then stayed on. Some of the other illegals are runaways.

Of the 8.8 million Expatriates, perhaps 6.5 million are bachelor status men, 500,000 married status men, 1 million working women (mostly bachelor status and some married wives), and 800,000 non-working wives and children.

Expatriates are generally hard working professionals, skilled and semi-skilled labor. They fill important jobs throughout the economy that Saudis cannot fill or are unwilling to fill. Expatriates have been critical to Saudi Arabia’s economy since it was established as a Kingdom by King Abdul Aziz 77 years ago, and have contributed to its growth and development continuously.

We are very fortunate to have the Expatriate workforce that has contributed to our national development over the decades. The major challenges we face are our inability to mobilize our female Saudi workforce, and our continued reliance on Expatriate workers who earn low wages to do work that we have decided we don’t want to do. In brief, we need to be more efficient and sophisticated in our use of Expatriate labor, especially considering that we have high female unemployment, and serious shortages of water and electricity that cannot support high population numbers in the Kingdom.


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