Expat exodus from Saudi Arabia as more than 800,000 leave in 18 months

clock • 1 min read

More than 811,000 expatriates have left Saudi Arabia on final exit visas over the past 18 months, according to the Directorate General of Passports (Jawazat) in Riyadh.

According to the Jawazat, an average of more than 1,500 foreign workers have left the country every day since the last quarter of 2016. The exodus is taking place against a backdrop of tougher rules governing foreign workers across the GCC and especially in Saudi Arabia, where the government, led by crown prince Mohammed bin Salman, is trying to increase employment among Saudi nationals.

Reports in Saudi Arabia’s Al-Hayat newspaper reported on Wednesday that during the first quarter of 2018, as many as 270,000 expatriates left on final exit visa compared to 541,000 during the same period last year.

The Jawazat confirmed that 1.2 million exit/re-entry visas were issued during the first four months of this year compared to 3m over the same period in 2017.

The Saudi Interior Ministry said that a total of 928,857 expatriates have been arrested for violating the residency, work and border security laws.

According to the ministry, 12,782 expatriates are currently being detained in detention centers.

In January, International Investment reported that expats in Saudi Arabia were being barred from working in 12 sectors.

Also in January, International Investment reported on a triple blow for nationals and expatriates alike as a result of a hike in fuel prices, the introduction of Value Added Tax (VAT) and the impact of the financial levy on expatriate workers all impacting at the same time.

There are estimated to be around 9m expatriates living and working in Saudi Arabia, making up around 20% of the total population.

Author spotlight

Christopher Copper-Ind

Christopher Copper-Ind is editor-in-chief of International Investment. Before this, he was editorial director of The Business Year, from 2014 to 2017.