After seeing their number rise for over a decade, the population of expatriates, prominently Bangladeshi migrant workers, in Oman is witnessing a downward trend.
According to data from the National Centre for Statistical Information, the number of expats has fallen by nearly 21,000 in 10 months. The numbers have, in fact, fluctuated in these months.
Experts said the number of white-collar workers was dropping in the last couple of years, while the number of blue-collar workers was going up; now the number of blue-collar workers is also beginning to fall.
It has been noted that the Omanisation policy and strict visa regulation for expats have resulted in this drop in the number of expats, who are increasingly getting replaced by Omanis.
Moreover, a six-month ban on expat workers in 10 sectors, including 87 professions, was imposed by the Ministry of Manpower from January 25, 2018. The decision came into effect following a ministerial decree issued by Minister of Manpower Abdullah bin Nasser Al Bakri on January 24, 2018.
Sectors affected by the ban included IT, media, air traffic, engineering, accounting and finance, technicians, insurance, marketing and sales, administration, and HR. The downward trend becomes clear by another fact. NCSI’s data disclosed that the expat population was 6,201 lesser than that in the same month last year.
The drop in the expat population year-on-year comes after the expatriate workforce tripled over a 10-year period, between 2007 and 2017, according to experts. The 2010 Census in Oman made it clear that expats made up only 29 per cent of the population, but since then, their number has risen rapidly to make up 45 per cent of the population.
Visa ban a regulation measure: Shura
Aziz Al Hasni, a Majlis Al Shura member, said the visa ban was more of a regulation measure. “Certainly, the measures taken by the government have helped control the number of expatriate workers in the Sultanate. Oman’s employment programmes and new decisions have helped to regulate the labour market,” he said.
“Jobs are being given to Omanis, so expat workers who were in demand earlier are not required as much anymore. In the construction industry, we are trying to get Omani engineers to take up responsibilities that were earlier held by expats. So, the expat population will certainly continue to drop,” he added.
“Moreover, the Omani talent pool is growing with better quality every year. So, considering an expat wouldn’t even make financial sense anymore,” Maaz Firdous, Consultant at Al Iskaan Engineering, said.
Muhammad Zaeem, Secretary General, Pakistan Social Club, said he understood why the government went ahead with the visa ban. “Omanisation has become a requirement to provide an opportunity to young Omanis to work. This is a positive step but it must be balanced. In addition, the Sultanate plans to attract a number of investment projects that will offer many job opportunities. We still need expatriate workers, especially in areas such as the construction sector,” he said.
“There is definitely a decline since the visa ban came into effect, especially in IT, sales, and construction sectors. Unfortunately, renewal of visas has also become restricted for high-end cases due to the visa ban,” Zaeem added.
Many nationalities shrink
NCSI data has revealed that the number of Bangladeshis decreased by 0.3 per cent, from 692,164 in December to 690,381 by the end of January. Similarly, the number of Indian workers fell from 688,226 to 685,938, amounting to a 0.3 per cent decrease. Indonesian and Ethiopians saw the greatest loss in the number of expats with a 3.4 per cent and 4.6 per cent decrease, respectively.
Filipinos were the only nationality not to see a drop in the number of expats during that period. Bangladeshi expats were the single biggest group of non-nationals in Oman followed by Indians.
“Earlier, Bangladeshi workers would come in large numbers, nearly 10,000 every month. Now, that number has decreased to some 5,000 a month. So, this may be one reason for the drop in expat population,” an official from the Bangladesh embassy said.