Jeddah: As part of its Vision 2030 programme, Saudi Arabia plans to increase the number of Saudis employed in the private sector, which is currently heavily dominated by expatriate workers.

The General Authority of Statistics reported that by the second quarter of this year, the rate of unemployed Saudis had reached 12.1 per cent. Around two-thirds of Saudi Arabia’s working population is below 25.

The government plans to cut the jobless rate to 7 per cent by 2030, and increase women’s participation in the workforce from 22 per cent to 30 per cent.

To provide employment opportunities for Saudis, the government launched a policy called Saudisation, which is the replacement of foreign workers with Saudis in the private sector.

Sohoub Baghdadi, a Saudi human rights activist and writer, said that the Saudisation strategy was a tool to combat low employment. “It is a tough decision to let go off expatriates we considered as our family and friends, but for our country to progress, we need to be less dependent [on foreigners],” she said.

In the pursuit of its goals, the government launched the Nitaqat programme in 2011, which has undergone many changes since its inception.

In line with reforms under Nitaqat, the government has pressed private companies to not only employ a certain percentage of Saudis in their workforce, but also focus on factors such as recruitment of women, the average salary of Saudis to foreign workers, and sustainability of jobs held by nationals.

All sectors fall under Nitaqat, with different sets of quotas.

The programme divides private companies into four categories — premium, green, yellow and red.

Companies in the premium and green categories have a high percentage of Saudi workers whereas companies in the yellow and red have the lowest.

Based on these parameters, companies receive benefits and penalties, depending on their category.

Private businessmen have felt the heat of Saudisation.

Earlier this year, the Ministry of Social and Labour Development banned clinics and hospitals from recruiting foreign dentists. Local daily Okaz reported there were currently about 13,500 Saudi dentists who were unemployed.

The Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage has given December 23 as the deadline for all travel and tourism companies to train and recruit 14,000 Saudis in leadership roles.

Over the past few years, jobs in some sectors have been gradually made off-limits for foreign workers.

The government has achieved almost complete Saudisation in some sectors, such as banking and finance, human resources, car rental service, telecom, insurance, and in professions such as taxi drivers, and salesmen.

Baghdadi also told Gulf News that the government had opened institutes to train Saudi youths in computer science, management, and leadership and entrepreneurship roles.

Several private institutions, such as the Saudi Electronic University, are also offering training courses to Saudis.

A centre known as ‘Markaz Al Tmayoz Al Bahthy’ has also been established to support Saudi postgraduate degree and doctoral degree holders until they can find suitable jobs in their fields.