Muscat: The latest decision of the government to enforce a two-year ban on expatriates from returning to employment is a vital measure to address demographic problem to reduce the number of foreigners in the country rather than to balance the Sultanate's employment's needs, according to labour experts.
Expatriate workers cannot sign another contract if they have not completed two years in the previous employment. They would need to wait for two years to come back and work for another employer.
Previously, the government slapped a six-month ban on cleaners and construction labourers from changing employers and the law to stop the recruitment of women expatriates was enacted a year before that. The series of crackdown on expatriates in the last two years included discouraging the parents of expatriates from visiting the country and raids in offices to look for illegal workers.
The government's decisions are about ensuring that the Omani population is not diluted by expatriates, said Dr Khalil Al Ansari, a visiting researcher from Saudi Arabia's Centre of Demographic Society, told Times of Oman.
"It is not about productivity in the private sector or job creation for nationals but a demographic problem."
In 2012, the Ministry of Manpower announced that the country wanted to reduce the proportion of expatriates in the private sector from 40 per cent to 33 per cent. Omani citizens constitute 55 per cent of the population, while expatriates make up the rest. Of the nearly 1.76 million expatriates, 1.53 million are employees. The rest are their family members, according to the National Centre for Statistics and Information.
"This statistics is the proof the government would take all measures from this point onwards to make sure that the expatriate population does not increase to uncontrollable level as we see in the United Arab Emirates or Kuwait," Saif Al Mahrooqi, a retired statistician for the ex-Ministry of Economy and Finance, said.
An internal old memo obtained by Times of Oman in the Manpower Ministry clearly highlights the importance of restricting "uncontrolled" employment of expatriates in the country as a demographic issue.
"The demographic problem is a major issue and it was first discussed in 2000 but it was shelved. New directors who have been employed by the manpower ministry are now bringing it back in the discussion table but this time it seems there is a serious commitment to cut down the number of expatriates in Oman," a ministry of manpower official, who did not want to be identified because he is not authorised to speak to the media, told Times of Oman.
But business owners and company executives welcome the two-year visa restriction on expatriates saying the move will provide stability and increased productivity in the private sector.
"I welcome the rule and I think it is going to be a positive move for the continuity of the operations of many companies in Oman. Employees can contribute much more effectively if they show commitment than jumping around from one company to another," Rajendra Prasad, general manager of Nabhan Investments Company, told Times of Oman.
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Column: Will the 2-year ban work in the best interests of Oman?