Manama: Saudi Arabia’s Labour Ministry has, in an unprecedented decision, approved South American country Chile as a new source for domestic workers in the kingdom.

Chile joins 14 countries on the list that includes seven countries from Africa (Algeria, Sudan, Morocco, Tanzania, Tunisia, Egypt and Mauritania) and seven from Asia (The Philippines, India, Yemen, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Vietnam), .

The workers will be allowed into the kingdom to take up seven specialties, four for men and three for women, local daily Okaz reported on Monday.

According to the labour ministry, male domestic workers will be employed as drivers, helpers, housekeepers and nurses whereas women will be given jobs as housekeepers, nannies and nurses.

Costs to hire domestic helpers will vary between SR1,500 and SR23,000, and the application process to bring helpers from Chile will take up to six months the daily said.

Saudi Arabia has been diversifying the sources of the expatriate workers to ensure services are not disrupted, particularly that it had at times a tenuous relationship with some of those states over disagreement on the conditions of foreign workers.

In September, Kenya unexpectedly announced a decision to freeze the recruitment of its workers to the Middle East.

Citing numerous mistreatment claims, the Kenyan labour ministry also suspended the operations of all the recruitment agencies in the country and stopped their operations with immediate effect.

This month, Indonesia, a major source for workers in Saudi Arabia, said it would prevent its female citizens from working as domestic helpers in foreign countries earlier than widely expected.

Originally, Indonesia planned to stop sending helpers abroad only from 2017, but newly-appointed President Joko Widodo said that Indonesia would stop sending its women to work as maids overseas “to preserve the country’s dignity” and that “Indonesian women going overseas to work as housemaids must stop immediately.”

Around nine million expatriates live in Saudi Arabia, mostly unskilled workers and labourers from Asia in the construction and service sectors.

They make up around one third of the total population of the kingdom.

Although the rate is high, it is the lowest among the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries that largely depend on expatriates.

The GCC comprises Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

Attempts to reduce reliance on foreigners and imposing a cap on their residency have been staunchly resisted by power business communities that predicted ominously that the economies would suffer dramatically if the measure were implemented.