MUSCAT (Reuters) — Oman plans to deport over 1,000 foreigners found to be working illegally on a multi-billion dollar project to expand Muscat International Airport, in a sign of tensions between its labour policy and its big infrastructure building plans.
"The companies for which these illegal workers were working will be fined and the workers will be deported," Salim bin Said al-Badi, director-general of labour welfare at the Ministry of Manpower, was quoted as saying this week by local media.
Times of Oman said the labourers were employed to build a new terminal at the airport, but did not have the necessary work permits for the construction sector. Instead, they held visas to work in restaurants, coffee shops and barber shops, and as tailors and housemaids.
The media reports said at least some of the workers were from Bangladesh, but did not give details or name the companies involved.
There are over 1.5 million foreign workers in Oman, many of them from south and southeast Asia; they far outnumber the Omani citizens working in the private sector.
The government needs foreigners to work in construction, oil, services and other industries. It has embarked on transport and industrial projects worth billions of dollars that are intended to help the economy diversify beyond oil.
But the government also wants to limit the number of foreigners, in order to make more jobs available for Omanis and reduce the amount of wages remitted abroad. In 2013, the cabinet said it would aim to cut the proportion of foreigners in Oman's population to 33 per cent from around 40 per cent.
So authorities have restricted access to work visas and pressed companies to hire quotas of Omani citizens instead of foreigners. Some companies complain the restrictions have left them unable to find enough labour, forcing them to hire workers without proper permits.
The Al Shabiba daily quoted Minister of Transport and Communications Ahmed bin Mohammed al-Futaisi as saying the deportations would not delay the planned completion of the airport project by the end of 2016.
"We will make sure that the contractor gets the human resources needed to finish the work on time," he said. Officials at the Ministry of Manpower could not be reached for comment.