Saudis hope departing Westerners will reduce unemployment rate

Tuesday, September 13, 2004

ABU DHABI 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.

Copyright 2004 East West Services, Inc.

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