MUSCAT, Oman (Reuters) — Oman said it would extend curbs on the hiring of foreign workers in construction and housekeeping as part of efforts to save more jobs for local citizens and limit outflows of money from the economy.
Hiring of expatriates by private companies in those two sectors will be banned for six months from May 4, the official Oman News Agency (ONA) quoted Minister of Manpower Sheikh Abdullah bin Nasser Al-Bakri as saying on Monday.
The ban was originally introduced for a six-month period last November. Similar restrictions exist for several other industries such as carpentry and aluminium product making.
It is not clear how much of an impact the ban will have; exceptions to the policy will be made for companies working on government projects, smaller enterprises and firms managed full-time by their owners, ONA reported.
Oman is spending billions of dollars on infrastructure projects to diversify its economy beyond oil, and it seems unlikely to starve these projects of labour. Many Omani families employ domestic workers from abroad.
But Sheikh Abdullah's order suggests growing concern in the government about the economy's dependence on foreign workers — a concern shared by some other Gulf states such as Saudi Arabia, which is deporting tens of thousands of illegal workers.
Expatriate workers in Oman rose to 1.53 million in February from 1.47 million registered a year earlier, government data shows. By contrast there were just 184,485 Omani citizens working in the private sector in February; the country's total population, including foreign residents, is officially estimated at 4 million.
The government does not release regular, timely data on unemployment among its citizens, but discontent with limited job opportunities and corruption triggered sporadic street protests in 2011.
In February last year, the Council of Ministers said the government would aim to limit foreign workers to 33 per cent of Oman's population, but it did not give a time frame and the rise in employment of expatriates since then suggests officials have found it hard to curb numbers in a growing economy.
Most foreign workers in the construction and oil industries come from India, Bangladesh and Pakistan, while many domestic workers are from Indonesia and the Philippines.
Salim Al Sheedi, head of the Oman Society of Contractors, a construction industry association, said the ban would benefit well-established companies in the sector by preventing other firms from bringing in workers without properly supervising them.
By excluding smaller companies from the ban, the policy will also benefit Omani entrepreneurs and managers, he added.
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