Oman's latest employment rules for foreigners explained

In 2022, the ministry of labour passed several laws that affect the hiring of foreign workers and Omanisation drives

A man walks on the corniche near Mina as Sultan Qaboos Muscat in the Mutrah district in Muscat, the capital of the Sultanate of Oman on Wednesday, Oct. 12, 2011. (Silvia Razgova/The National)
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In a televised speech on January 2022, to mark two years since his ascension to the throne after the death of long-time ruler Sultan Qaboos, Sultan Haitham said Oman was dedicated to training its young people for the labour market, and would provide assistance to entrepreneurs.

Since then, several decisions have been announced to mixed reviews from Omanis and resident foreign workers.

The sultanate faced a wave of protests by unemployed Omanis in late May 2021, after which the government sought to limit work to locals in several sectors.

What do these announcements entail?

During the pandemic, the ministry of labour urged the private sector to replace departing foreign workers with Omani jobseekers, who numbered about 70,000 at the end of 2021, according to official statistics. Those statistics also showed that about 300,000 foreign workers left Oman during the pandemic, as the private sector struggled to sustain business.

As a result, Labour Minister Mahad Baween announced in May 2021 that the country would provide at least 32,000 jobs in the public and private sectors for young Omanis in 2022.

But in what looked like a turnaround, in June the authorities slashed recruitment fees paid by companies hiring foreign workers, in an attempt to boost the private sector and wider economy that had been hit hard by Covid-19.

Job experts welcomed the government’s turnaround in an attempt to keep foreign workers in Oman.

“It makes sense for the government to revise its earlier decision [on] expatriates. There are not enough Omanis to fill all these vacancies, especially when young graduates are very choosy when it comes to employment. The private sector can decide which jobs to reserve for Omanis and which job vacancies can be available for both sides,” said Ali Al Zaabi, an Omani economist working for the government.

However, the latest ban indicates a change of heart in Oman's resolve to keep its foreign workforce.

In July, Oman announced a ban on non-Omanis working in 207 categories of jobs in the sultanate.

Decision No 235/2022 is part of Omanisation efforts by authorities — aimed at giving locals opportunities and priority in the jobs market.

In 2018, the ministry banned foreign workers in 87 jobs across nearly 10 sectors.

Among white-collar jobs included are: human resources directors, hiring managers, personnel directors, public relations directors, directors of external communications, directors of students affairs and career guidance managers.

Blue-collar jobs include bus drivers, grocery store staff, watchmen and several other jobs.

“Work permit licences issued for the professions set out in the annex attached to this decision shall be valid until the date of its expiry,” Article 2 of the decision says.

“Specified professions will apply until the date of their expiry."

Article 3 of the decision cancels previous rulings that permitted foreigners to work in these areas.

Academics such as Dr Hilal Abdullah, a lecturer at the College of Applied Sciences, believes that Oman must create a balance between the needs of manpower for the private sector and giving job opportunities to young Omani graduates.

“We acknowledge that jobs must be created for Omanis but at the same time the country needs expatriates to fill up jobs that young graduates don’t want to take. Omanis are not interested in blue-collar jobs like drivers, watchmen or positions in grocery businesses.

“We will also have problems in white-collar jobs. The business scenario in Oman is expanding and not all positions can be filled by Omanis. Also, experience is a factor when Omanis who are currently occupying these positions retire and young graduates cannot fill them. Expatriates must step in to do that,” Dr Abdullah said.

In a bid to boost the recruitment of locals, the government introduced a scheme paying 150 rials a month for 12 months for every Omani employed by a private company.

Companies where the workforce is made up of at least 30 per cent Omanis get an additional 30 per cent discount on recruitment fees when hiring foreign staff.

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Updated: September 03, 2022, 5:30 AM