Oman's hiring freeze puts more locals in private sector jobs — but not enough

However, extension of ban on foreign workers may not have been necessary, statistics show

An Omani man walks along the Mutrah Corniche seafront lined with 19th Century merchants houses in the old city of Muscat, Oman, on Monday, May 7, 2018. Being the Switzerland of the Gulf served the country well over the decades, helping the sultanate survive, thrive and make it a key conduit for trade and diplomacy in the turbulent Middle East. Photographer: Christopher Pike/Bloomberg
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Oman's government extended a freeze on hiring foreigners because the number of local workers in the private sector was not rising fast enough — but official statistics indicate the ban may not be necessary, experts say.

A six-month ban on expatriate hires in 10 sectors — including media, information technology, marketing, insurance and aviation — was announced in January and will now continue until the end of the year.

The number of Omanis employed by the private sector in these industries rose by 3.6 per cent in the first four months of this year compared to the same period in 2017, according to the National Centre for Statistics Information (NCSI). In the same period, there was a 1.5 per cent drop in the number of expatriates registered in the private sector overall.

However, the figures were short of the government's target and that is why it decided to extend its non-citizens hiring ban, said Hafidh Al Harmali, an independent employment expert.

"I don't think the government is happy with the outcome of the first ban and this has led to the ban extension. About 2,000 jobs were created for Omanis in these banned jobs — that is encouraging but not enough," Mr Al Harmali told The National. "However, we need to wait until end of this year when the extended ban comes to an end to see its real impact."


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Omanis are still outnumbered almost eight to one by foreign workers in the private sector, according to the ministry of manpower's figures. As of April, there were 245,253 Omani employees in the private sector compared with 1.84 million foreigners.

But Ali Al Zaabi, an Omani economist working for the government, said statistics on new private-sector jobs created for Omanis showed that there was no need to restrict hiring of expatriates, whose expertise was still needed by the sultanate.

The government said in October that it planned to start creating 25,000 new jobs in the private sector from December to reduce unemployment among Omanis. A total of 16,823 jobs were created by the end of May, the manpower ministry's statistics show.

"We don't need to restrict expatriates too much and that has just been proven by the creation of 16,823 new jobs since December last year," said Mr Al Zaabi, who works at the ministry of regional municipality.

"This also proves that the private sector can generate enough jobs. It makes sense now to keep employing more Omanis and let the employment sector takes its natural course,” he said.

“The private sector still needs expatriates and our economy still depends on their expertise. We are doing fine at the moment and the latest employment figures prove it without going into these restrictions.”