There is confusion among expats in Saudi Arabia over reports that the government is to impose a six year cap on residency visas for all expat workers.

It was reported that companies are to be given five months to introduce new rules including employing a minimum number of Saudi employees under labour reforms.

The situation though now appears to have been clarified with Saudi labour minister Adel Al Faqih telling Arab News that the cap will only apply to the private sector and to companies who don’t meet a prescribed quota of Saudi employees as part of a drive to boost local employment.

He said that from September 07 companies that do not meet their quota will fall under the Nitaqat policy that will put companies into three categories, of which green, the category of complying companies, will be able to recruit foreign workers from the other two categories.

Companies that do not reach their Saudi quota will be in a yellow category where the visas of employees who have been on a working visa for six years or more will not be renewed.

Companies that flout the rules will go into the red category and their employees will not be able to renew their visas at all.

To add further to the confusion, he said that there is a platinum category for companies that have exceptional track records in employing Saudis.

There has been a flood of protests. Critics point out that many of the more lowly jobs, for example, labouring on construction sites, which are filled by Asian workers, pay a low wage, as there is no minimum wage in the private sector. Also foreign workers are often housed in communal dormitories, as they cannot afford anywhere else.

The minister promised employers he would answer their questions. ‘My ministry will see to it that every single query of yours is answered. Without your support, the new Saudization drive will not succeed. Unemployment is a serious problem and therefore we are making serious efforts to solve it,’ he said.

Employers that use foreign labour often complain of their inability to recruit Saudis at the level of wages and benefits given to foreign workers.

It has also been reported that residence visas are being changed to bring them in line with health insurance.

Around eight million expats live in Saudi Arabia, the largest Arab economy and the world’s oil powerhouse. They account for just over a quarter of the country’s total population of 27.1 million where about six million work in the private sector.