Saudi population to rise on skilled labour need
Riyadh, June 10, 2010
Saudi Arabia's population will rise by 15.4 per cent within the next five years, mainly due to skilled labour imports for major projects aimed to diversify the kingdom's oil-based economy, a Reuters poll showed.
Saudi Arabia is expected to announce this year results of a rare population census, which analysts hope will shed light on challenges facing the Gulf Arab country and its rulers.
The kingdom’s population is expected to grow to 29.3 million within five years, according to the median forecast of 10 economists polled by Reuters between April 21 and June 10, of which up to 8.5 millions are projected to be expatriates.
Growth of expatriate ranks from around 6.2 million now, is seen outpacing that of Saudi nationals, indicating that the world's top oil exporter will rely on foreigners to go ahead with its development plans.
'We expect the population growth rate to accelerate in 2010-2012 as a consequence of an increased number of expatriate workers being required for the series of major infrastructure projects that are being implemented currently,' said Rory Fyre, deputy editor at the Economist Intelligence Unit in London.
Riyadh is investing $400 billion in 2008-2013 to improve infrastructure and build industries that need foreign manpower and skills the kingdom cannot produce on a large enough scale.
Providing jobs for a fast-rising young native population is the main challenge facing the absolute monarchy but it has also been an incentive to clip the wings of influential clerics who oppose reforms they see as an imitation of the West.
With population officially at 25.4 million, Saudi Arabia offers its nationals social benefits but they are below those granted by other Gulf Arab oil producers such as Kuwait and Qatar, which have a much smaller native population.
Many Saudis are forced to work as taxi drivers, private security guards or other low-paid jobs to make ends meet.
The desert kingdom is also struggling to ensure equal access for its citizens to public services and adequate infrastructure.
The southern area bordering instable Yemen and the north are much less developed than other regions, such as the central Najd plateau where the ruling family hails from or the eastern province, where most of the kingdom's oil reserves are located.
Some Western diplomats say population is much higher than official data when considering illegal migrants, Bedouin who still live a nomad lifestyle and the lack of data on employment.
The kingdom does not publish regular jobless data, a sensitive issue for authorities since it highlights fissures in wealth distribution in one of the world's wealthiest countries.
Unemployment among Saudi women stands at 28.3 per cent, the labour minister was quoted as saying in a local paper this week.
Most experts expect Saudi population growth to slow on more organisation, higher literacy and a greater number of working women, but dependency on expatriates will not end any time soon.
Riyadh is serious about investing in education but results will take time, while many Saudis shun jobs expanding industries need, said Jarmo Kotilaine, chief economist at NCB Capital.
'At the same time even the best educated Saudis will lack depth of expertise for years to come, leaving many professional sectors with a substantial expat presence,' he said. – Reuters