Saudi Arabia said to review expat fees as economy feels sting

DUBAI • Saudi Arabia is reviewing its policy of imposing fees on expatriate workers after rising costs in inflicted economic pain and contributed to an exodus of foreigners, according to four people familiar with the matter.

While it’s unlikely the fees will be cancelled altogether, a ministerial committee is looking at modifying or restructuring them, one of the people said. A decision is expected within weeks, two of the people said. They all spoke on condition of anonymity because the information isn’t public yet.

Awwad Alawwad, the Saudi minister of media, denied the fee is being reviewed, the government’s Centre for International Communication said in an email.

Announced in 2016 as part of a drive to increase non-oil government revenue — a key goal of Crown Prince Mohammed Salman’s economic transformation plan — the fees have been unpopular with business owners in a country accustomed to cheaper foreign labour. Partly as a result, hundreds of thousands of foreigners have left the kingdom, hitting the already-struggling economy, but failing to make much of a dent in Saudi unemployment.

The aim of the review is to reconcile the government’s fiscal needs with the ability of the private sector to hire and grow, one of the people said.

After the kingdom’s economy contracted 0.9% last year, officials are keen to stimulate the private sector, which has had difficulty adapting to some of the Crown Prince’s rapid policy changes. — Bloomberg