Pictured: Jobseekers stand in line to talk with a recruiter at a job fair in Riyadh Source: Reuters

Despite ongoing efforts to create more work opportunities, Saudi Arabia witnessed the highest-ever unemployment rate among its citizens in the first quarter of 2018. 

According to data released by the General Authority for Statistics on Thursday, the unemployment rate peaked at 12.9 percent.

Based on data collected as early as 1999, this marks the highest rate ever documented by the official statistics agency, The Daily Star reported.

The unemployment rate among Saudi nationals stood at 12.7 percent in the first quarter of 2017. The rate then rose to 12.8 percent, which was prevalent for three quarters, before reaching 12.9 percent in the first quarter of 2018.

Meanwhile, the unemployment rate among non-Saudis has increased from 0.7 percent in the fourth quarter of 2017 to 0.9 percent in the first quarter of 2018.

The study also found that the employment rate among Saudi women has decreased from 31.1 percent in the fourth quarter of 2017 to 30.9 percent in the first quarter of this year.

The full results can be found here.

Authorities have been trying to create more jobs for Saudis

With some nine million foreigners employed in Saudi Arabia, the kingdom has been intensifying its efforts to boost employment opportunities for Saudi nationals and reduce its reliance on foreign labor under its ambitious Vision 2030 plan.

The kingdom has passed several orders under the plan, including one that terminates all contracts pertaining to expatriate workers in the public sector within three years and another that nationalizes jobs in shopping malls. 

The kingdom has also sought to increase the role of women in the workforce, with several sectors providing new opportunities for female employees. 

However, according to media reports, private employers have been struggling due to the newly-imposed 5 percent value-added tax (VAT) as well as the domestic fuel price hike, leading to the increase in unemployment rates.

Youth unemployment in Arab countries

Last year, the results of the 9th ASDA’A Burson-Marsteller Arab Youth Survey showed that more than half of the Arab youth in the region believe that their biggest concern about the future is the fear of unemployment.

At the time, 51 percent of young Arabs, male and female between the ages of 18-24, expressed their worries that they might not be able to either keep their current jobs or find new positions, as they complained about the job market in their relevant Arab countries.

Overall, figures showed a worrying 9 percent increase in unemployment compared to the results of the previous year.

From lowest to highest, here is a list of Middle Eastern nations ranked by their youth unemployment rate:

  1. Qatar (1.5 percent)
  2. UAE (10 percent)
  3. Bahrain (14 percent)
  4. Oman (18.8 percent)
  5. Kuwait (19.4 percent)
  6. Algeria (20 percent)
  7. Lebanon (21 percent)
  8. Morocco (21 percent)
  9. Jordan (29 percent)
  10. Yemen (30 percent)
  11. Tunisia (32 percent)
  12. Saudi Arabia (33.5 percent)
  13. Iraq (35 percent)
  14. Egypt (42 percent)
  15. Palestine (43 percent)
  16. Libya (49 percent)