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Expatriates are more likely to secure a new job in Saudi Arabia than in any other country in the GCC, according to the latest employment data released today by GulfTalent.com, the leading Middle East online recruitment firm.

The number of expatriate employees in the Kingdom rose by an estimated 2.4% in the fourth quarter of 2009, followed by Qatar with a 2.2% increase. Oman also showed a marginal rise, with a 0.3% growth.

The results are based on actual staff increases and decreases reported by 11,000 managers across the region, who participated in a survey by GulfTalent.com.

Massive spending by the Saudi government on infrastructure projects has helped maintain economic activity during the global economic downturn, while growth in Qatar has been fueled by the country’s continued exploitation of its huge gas reserves, the third largest in the world.

Based on the survey results, Kuwait, UAE and Bahrain saw a drop in the number of expatriate employees during the fourth quarter, with declines of 2.8%, 4.2% and 7.7% respectively.

The UAE economy was hit hard last year by the slowdown in the real estate market and the virtual freeze in lending. Bahrain and Kuwait have been heavily impacted by the exposure of their banking and investment sectors.

Table: Private Sector Expatriate Employment
% Change in Headcount in 2009 Q4 *

Country Net Headcount Change
———— ——————————
Saudi Arabia +2.4%
Qatar +2.2%
Oman +0.3%
Kuwait – 2.8%
UAE – 4.2%
Bahrain – 7.7%

*Estimated change during the quarter. Not annualized.
Source: GulfTalent.com Survey

GulfTalent.com’s findings are consistent with trends in money transfers by expatriates. Based on official data and analyst estimates, outward remittances from Saudi Arabia increased by 12% in 2009 relative to the previous year, while remittances from the UAE fell by 15% over the same period.

GulfTalent.com’s interviews with hiring managers found that the increased demand for staff in Saudi Arabia and Qatar was being satisfied by a combination of new recruitment, as well as staff relocations within the region, with companies moving large numbers of their employees from slower markets such as the UAE.

Sector Variations

The survey also shows that job prospects for expatriate employment in the GCC vary between sectors. Headcount in the logistics sector rose by 3.0% in the last quarter of 2009. The retail and consumer goods sector came in second place with overall headcount increasing by 2.6%.

In contrast, real estate and oil & gas were the fastest shrinking sectors, with headcount falls of 7.8% and 4.7% respectively.

In terms of job categories, the number of sales jobs expanded by 3.5%, possibly indicating growing market optimism, with companies bracing themselves for increased customer demand in 2010, the study reveals.

There was a decline in the number of expats employed in finance and administration roles, with net falls of 3.1% and 2.2% respectively, as firms continued to rationalize back office functions and seek efficiencies. Engineering jobs faced a net reduction of 2.6% as new project starts did not fully absorb all the engineers being released from recently completed projects.

Mobility Trends

Though overall headcount showed a net increase in several countries, all parts of the region witnessed some job cuts during the fourth quarter of 2009.

Based on GulfTalent.com’s findings, over half of those losing jobs were able to secure another job within the region, while around one-third returned to their home countries. The remainder either took up full-time education, started their own business, opted for retirement or continued to look for employment opportunities.

Table: Employee Status After Termination
Breakdown of GCC-based expatriates losing jobs in 2009 Q4

32% Secured employment with another firm in the same country
22% Relocated to work in another Gulf country
12% Remained unemployed within the country
30% Returned to home country
2% Took up full-time education
1% Started own business
1% Retired

Source: GulfTalent.com Survey

Among expatriate groups, Western nationals were most likely to return to their home countries upon loss of employment, with 55% doing so, compared with 37% of Asian expatriates and only 18% of Arab expatriates.

Qatar had the highest rate of redundant employees returning home at 54%, in part due to strict laws prohibiting employees from switching employers.

The UAE had the highest proportion of unemployed expatriates remaining within the country and continuing to look for jobs – reflecting both the challenging employment environment as well as the popularity of the country with expatriates, with many reluctant to leave.

Despite the uneven nature of employment prospects, survey participants in all six GCC countries expected to see a net increase in employment in 2010.

The survey was conducted by GulfTalent.com during February and March this year. GulfTalent.com is the Middle East’s leading online recruitment firm, with a registered user base of 1.5 million professionals, and serves as the primary source of both local and expatriate talent to over 3,000 employers and recruitment agencies across the region.


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