Expats in Oman fear losing their jobs

Expat workers in Oman feeling the pressure as government moves to create 50,000 jobs for nationals in wake of protests.

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MUSCAT // Eafraz Saleem, 44, a private school teacher, was so worried that he might not have a job next shool year that he checked into a hospital seeking treatment for his anxiety.

"I spent two days in hospital with stress-related problems waiting for news about the renewal of my contract. I will have to wait for another month to know," Mr Saleem, a Pakistani national, who has been teaching in Muscat for the past seven years, said last week.

As the government tries to fulfil its promise to create thousands of jobs for nationals to satisfy the demands of a six-month-old protest, expats such as Mr Saleem, are becoming increasingly concerned about hanging on to theirs. In March, Sultan Qaboos bin Said ordered 50,000 jobs created for Omani nationals in a move to appease protesters to end unrest that caused two deaths.

"About 150 stressed expatriates, whom we have arranged employment for, came to see us so far asking us to find them jobs elsewhere in the Gulf because the strain of holding their jobs in Oman is getting too much because of the protests," Raj Shekhar, senior manager of Capital Manpower Consultancy, said last week.

Rohit Shankar, 33, an Indian, is quitting his marketing job of four years citing health problems caused by the job worries.

"I have been having palpitations for weeks after six out of 11 jobs occupied by expatriates in my company have been replaced by Omanis. I am leaving before my name is crossed by a red pencil," Mr Shankar said.

About a million people out of the total population of 2.8 million are expatriates.

The government said that it has already created about 30,000 jobs so far, a figure former protesters dispute.

"We don't see that many jobs have been created so far. The realistic figure is half of that. Besides - the government would not tell you this - that the demand of jobs is 20,000 a year as more people leave schools and higher education, " Said al-Kasbi, who joined the protests, said.

Employers are concerned that the uncertainty will force foreign employees to leave, fearing they will be replaced.

"I really hope this is not universal. We still need experienced expatriates in Oman. If they go in a big number then the productivity of many companies would nosedive. I don't think we should be in a hurry to replace them yet. It is the junior positions that we must 'Omanise' to create jobs for the nationals. I hope the government makes a distinction between the two levels of employment," said Qais Al Abry, the owner of Ghubra Heavy Lifting, a company that services construction projects.

A manpower ministry official said the government is reviewing about 25,000 jobs in the private sector now held by expatriates.

"These jobs held by expatriates can be replaced by Omanis and we are strongly considering not renewing work permits when they expire," said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

"However, we will always renew the work permits of expatriates where Omanis cannot fill the positions. We have to make sure we create a balance between the two so that Oman's development does not suffer."