Stricter work visa controls aim to curb expat numbers in Oman

Date Created: 13.06.2014

Hot summers, cooler winters but sunshine almost every day. That about sums up the weather in Oman, a country perched strategically at the mouth of the Persian Gulf. Oman, a member of the economic and political entity known as the GCC – the Gulf Cooperation Council – has an estimated 1.5 million expat workers, many of whom are attracted to the country by the high salaries and life-changing savings opportunities on offer.

However, Oman's expat numbers are set to fall from July onwards when stricter work visa controls come into play. According to local media reports, the new rules mean expats will have to work for the same boss for two years before they can switch employers. Otherwise they'll have to leave the country for two years and then apply for another work visa.

Wider government move

The change in work visa rules, aimed at reducing expat numbers from the current 39% to 33% of the workforce, is part of a much wider move by the government to improve economic opportunities for Omani nationals. The country's small and medium-sized businesses are also being encouraged to grab a far greater share of the opportunities presented by the in-country value (ICV) programme launched in 2013.

Under the ICV program, says the influential and respected Oxford Business Group (OBG), firms bidding for energy contracts in Oman's oil and gas sector are required to submit a plan outlining what measures they intend to implement to boost local content in their activities, from procurement of goods and materials through to support services, construction and ancillary activities. The higher the local input level, the more favourably a competitive tender bid will be viewed.

Buying and hiring locally

Official estimates suggest up to $64 billion of spending by the oil and gas sector can be kept in-country between the beginning of this year and 2020 if a policy of buying and hiring locally is rigorously pursued. Studies conducted have identified more than 50 supply chain opportunities for Omani firms to support the industry, mainly in replacing goods and services that are currently imported or otherwise outsourced.

The ICV program was the focus of a recent round table debate moderated by television presenter Riz Khan. Some of the panellists called for the scheme to be extended to other sectors in the economy beyond the hydrocarbon industry. Among the sectors that speakers felt could benefit from ICV were tourism, construction, finance and telecommunications. However, there was general agreement detailed studies would be required before the ICV policy could be expanded.

Identifying future workforce requirements

The latest conversation followed earlier discussions aimed at cementing the link between academia and employers. One of the outcomes of the forum, Connecting Success: Bridging the Gap between Industry and Academia, was the recognition industry needed to identify its future workforce requirements as early as possible, and to use this knowledge to produce well-rounded graduates with areas of specialisation more fitted to the workplace.

Ahmed Hassan Al Bulushi, the dean of the Caledonian College of Engineering, said private education institutions were better equipped to modify teaching programmes to meet market demand. The private sector was more flexible and less bureaucratic and therefore more responsive to industry needs.

The other members of the GCC are Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. Check out more from the OBG here.