Oman loses 17 per cent of expatriates after Covid downturn

Some expatriates are hurrying to sell cars and furniture in a bid to leave the sultanate

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Oman’s slowing economy and the pandemic outbreak led 17 per cent of all expatriates in the country to leave since the start of the year, and analysts expect more to leave by the end of 2020.

According to data from the state-run National Centre for Statistics and Information (NCSI), 277,728 more people left than during same period last year. Oman now has 1.4 million expatriates compared with 1.7 million at the end of 2019.

The NCSI statistics also showed about 60 per cent of the expatriates who left Oman worked in the construction sector, an area hit hard by the economic slowdown. Most of them are from Pakistan, India and Bangladesh.

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Analysts said more expatriates are expected to leave the country by the end of this year, mainly because the government is cutting spending as income from oil and tax has reduced while national spending increased because of Covid-19.

“The pandemic forced the government to freeze the maintenance and construction of infrastructure to save money to pay for the national deficit. By the end of this year, we will also see expatriates from the retail businesses leave as many shops run by them are closed,” said Dr Hamid Al Rawahi, a retired labour ministry adviser.

About 7,500 expatriates have registered for a waiver to leave Oman without paying fines in an amnesty announced by the government that started from November 15 and will run to the end of December.

Oman announced a deficit of 2.8 billion rials ($7bn) for the year and Sultan Haitham has already announced measures to boost the government’s income, including valued added tax, expected to start in the second quarter of 2021.

But the difficulties this year mean many expatriates are living with uncertainties because of the precarious job situation.

“We are gripped with the fear of the unknown because there is no more guarantee to work in Oman any more,” said Ravi Singh, 42, a car mechanic for Muscat Automotive Repairs. “The axe may fall any time. It is a very stressful time for me and my family because we know the end of our working life here is near.”

Expatriates who were given one month's notice face a financial dilemma before leaving the country.

“My work remuneration is not enough to pay off my bank loan. I also have to pay school fees for my two children. Where will I get the money to do that? I am trying my best to sell off my car and furniture to raise enough money. It is a stressful time for me,” said Joshi Rakesh, a computer network engineer.

Oman announced a four-day public holiday from Wednesday to mark the 50th National Day and the Health Ministry has not announced new cases of Covid-19 over the break.

Coronavirus has killed 1,342 people and infected at least 122,854 in the sultanate.