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‘Will continue hiring from India’: Saudi envoy plays down fears of jobs drying up for Indians

Ambassador Saud bin Mohammed al-Sati allayed such concerns, saying Vision 2030 will lead to new opportunities for Indian firms and professionals in areas such as hospitality, tourism, IT and entertainment

india Updated: Aug 17, 2018 10:51 IST
Rezaul H Laskar
Rezaul H Laskar
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Saudi Arabia,Saudi Arabian envoy to India,Indian workers in Saudi Arabia
Indian workers queue outside a bank branch in the Saudi Arabian port city of Jeddah.(AFP File Photo)

Saudi Arabia’s ambitious Vision 2030, hinging on mega projects such as NEOM economic zone and Qiddiya entertainment city, will open up investment opportunities for Indian firms and more jobs for Indian professionals, the Saudi envoy said on Thursday, trying to play down fears that jobs for Indians may be drying up in the West Asian country.

The long-term plan, the brainchild of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Sultan, envisions major structural changes such as a shift to non-oil revenues. It is also aimed at creating more employment for Saudis in a country that has traditionally depended on foreign workers, another factor stoking fears of job losses for Indians. Ambassador Saud bin Mohammed al-Sati allayed such concerns, saying Vision 2030 will lead to new opportunities for Indian firms and professionals in areas such as hospitality, tourism, IT and entertainment.

“It’s very natural when you expand your economy and introduce mega projects like NEOM, new railroads, airports and sea ports and Qiddiya entertainment city, the expectation is there will be more jobs. New jobs will be created for our citizens and India will continue to be a close and strong partner with Saudi Arabia,” he said. “I don’t see a connection between a particular nationality and changes that might happen in the Saudi economy and labour market…We will continue hiring doctors, nurses, IT professionals (from India).”

Despite fears of job losses in recent years, statistics “show the opposite in relation to Indian workers and professionals”, and their numbers in all sectors of the economy had increased, he added.

The number of emigration clearances granted to Indian workers wishing to work in Saudi Arabia was 78,000 in 2017, a 74% decline from approximately 300,000 in 2015. To be sure, this is only of fresh workers, and those requiring emigration clearance at that. The ambassador acknowledged the restructuring has led to lay-offs by major companies, including Saudi nationals. “This is natural anywhere,” he said. The envoy said he had held exploratory talks with an Indian firm to participate in Qiddiya entertainment city, a planned 334 sq km hub with amusement and theme parks and race tracks, while an Indian firm (which he declined to name) has visited the kingdom to explore the possibility of opening movie theatres after the easing of restrictions on screenings.

The Saudi Arabian General Investment Authority has issued more than 400 licences to Indian firms, where Indian companies such as Tata, Reliance, L&T, Infosys and Shapoorji Pallonji already have a presence.

Indian firms can also participate in Saudi Arabia’s plans to boost tourism through the opening up of cultural and historic sites and creation of transport infrastructure such as the high-speed 450-km railway line linking Mecca and Medina and a new airport in Jeddah.

Al-Sati said the number of Indians going for “Umrah”, the non-mandatory pilgrimage which can be performed round the year, has jumped from 350,000 in 2016 to 520,000 in 2017 and is expected to rise further. Indian hospitality firms can play a role in catering to such visitors, he said, noting that IHC forged a partnership with a Saudi firm this year to build a Taj Hotel within walking distance of the Grand Mosque in Mecca.

There are also opportunities in healthcare and pharmaceuticals, and Indian exporters can take advantage of the strategic King Abdullah sea port in Jeddah, he said. The envoy said Saudi Arabia is doing more to address complaints by expatriate workers, including setting up labour courts. The labour ministry has committees to address complaints and the two countries have established a working group on consular issues, he said.

He said the number of complaints from Indian workers is small when compared to the total size of the Indian population, and some of the problems were due to brokers who mislead people about jobs. Saudi Arabia is home to 3.2 million Indians, the largest expatriate community, with annual remittances in the region of $10 billion. Saudi Arabia is among India’s top three energy suppliers and the country’s fourth largest trade partner, and bilateral trade during 2016-17 was worth $25 billion.

First Published: Aug 17, 2018 10:37 IST