ABU DHABI Ñ Saudi Arabia hopes that the Western exodus will vacate
choice jobs for young university graduates in the kingdom.
Officials said Riyad would intensify efforts to replace Westerners with
Saudi nationals in a drive to reduce high unemployment. Officials said the
unemployment among young Saudis has fueled the Al Qaida insurgency campaign
against the kingdom.
"I had clarified after I was appointed minister that the ministry will
adopt a 13-point program to combat the problem of unemployment," Saudi Labor
Minister Ghazi Al Gosaibi said. "These include curbing foreign labor and
raising the standards of Saudi labor."
On Saturday, two cars blew up outside banks in the Saudi port city of
Jedda. Nobody was killed and the Interior Ministry raised the prospect that
the attacks were the work of criminals rather than that of Al Qaida.
In an interview with the Al Watan daily, Al Gosaibi said about 300,000
Saudis or 10 percent of the country's eligible workforce remains unemployed.
Saudi Arabia reports a population of 24 million people, some six million of
whom are foreigners, mainly Asians.
The minister said he was examining a proposal that would require small
firms to hire additional Saudis. He said companies with fewer than 20
workers have so far been exempt from the so-called Saudization program.
"Perhaps it is the time to review that decision," Al Gosaibi said.
Officials said the Saudization program has largely failed as many
university graduates refuse to enter certain fields or have been unable to
replace Western nationals. For his part, Al Gosaibi said unemployment could
remain in the kingdom for another decade.