Young Omanis want cap on expatriates

The government is urged to increase employment quotas for citizens who say the overwhelming numbers of foreigners pose a tough challenge.

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MUSCAT // Young people and employment experts are calling for the government to create additional jobs for nationals and put a cap on expatriates' recruitment as more Omani college and university graduates struggle to find work.

According to the statistics from the ministry of national economy, there are more than twice as many expatriate workers as nationals working in both the private and government sectors. In a country of about three million people, there are 852,907 expatriates working in private companies compared with 304,869 Omanis, who make up about two-thirds of the total population. In the first eight months of 2009, the number of expatriates in private sector employment grew by 7.3 per cent. That equates to more than 62,000 expatriates who found jobs from January to August this year. In the same period, only about 4,500 Omanis were offered employment.

While Oman has set a quota for private companies to employ nationals as 30 per cent of their total workforce it is rarely enforced, and recent graduates such as Wael al Barwani have had little luck finding jobs in their fields. "I have been looking for a job in the private sector since I graduated in June and I am not the only one. "They tell me there is a global financial crisis but I am surprised expatriates find employment in different professions," Mr al Barwani, 24, a business administration graduate from Waljat College in Muscat, said. "If just half of the new jobs the expatriates found could have gone to Omanis, then that would have been quite an achievement."

The ministry of manpower, when contacted, declined to reveal statistics on Omanis looking for jobs but an employment expert said that at least 8,000 nationals seek new employment every year. "The new graduates looking for jobs are from a dozen higher education institutions in the country as well as youngsters who seek employment straight from school. In my estimation, about 8,000 of them look for jobs every year. About a quarter of them will not find jobs the same year and that creates a backlog," said Mohammed al Rabeea, 48, an employment consultant based in Muscat.

According to the recent government population survey, 55 per cent of the Omani population is below the age of 30, making the country one of the youngest nations in the region. The higher education ministry said there were about 60,000 students in local colleges and universities. "That means Oman will need to generate more jobs as the years go by, but in theory, that should not be a problem," Mr al Rabeea said. "For example, I am baffled why there are fewer jobs for Omanis so far this year, when the government is spending billions of dollars building the infrastructure. The second question is, why the vast majority of the jobs available this year went to expatriates?"

Oman in January listed US$16.47 billion (Dh60bn) for new projects in its 2009 fiscal year budget. So far the government has awarded 90 per cent of that amount in contracts for work including airports, ports, roads, hospitals and schools. The minister of the national economy, Ahmed Macki, said when he unveiled the 2009 budget that he expected the record expenditure this year to "create thousands of jobs" to local graduates. But some graduates feel he has not fulfilled his promise.

"When you have billions of dollars hitting the market, the priority should go to nationals and not to foreigners. I think it is time to increase the quota set by government on private companies to employ Omanis. As it stands now, there is an unequal opportunity of employment favouring expatriates," Hilal al Mawli, 24, a graduate from the Al Khuwair Technical College, said. Mr al Mawli graduated in June as an electrical engineer and has sent applications to local companies.

"I am still waiting for just one call for an interview. When I called back, I am told it will get better next year. However, we see more expatriates getting jobs and we wonder why Omanis do not get these opportunities," Mr al Mawli added. Mr al Rebeea agreed that the quota on jobs reserved for nationals should be raised. "This is the time to review it," he said. "Perhaps a figure of 40 per cent is justifiable since the government is spending more money now and the fact that more graduates look for jobs than 10 years ago when the quota was set."