Saudi Arabia's crackdown on illegal expats has been ongoing since November 2017. An accumulated 3.87 million foreigners have been arrested, of whom 963,234 were deported, for violating residency, labor, and border security regulations. When it comes to labor law violations, those detained were penalized for illegally holding jobs in the country.
This is the result of a 22-month campaign dubbed "A Nation Without Violators" which was expected to positively affect the high unemployment rates among the kingdom's nationals. However, analysts say the mass expat exit hasn't had any major effect on unemployment rates in Saudi Arabia.
In the first quarter of 2018, the unemployment rate reached an all-time high of 12.9 percent. Though it saw a drop in the third quarter of the same year, going down to 12.8 percent, it was considered a meager change.
Who's now filling the jobs left behind by deported expats if it isn't Saudis?
Saudi economic analyst Abdul Rahman told StepFeed that those taking up these vacancies include "anyone but Saudis."
"Those caught violating the labor law mostly worked in car mechanics, plumbing, catering and could've also been involved in marketing activities in addition [to] door-to-door sales. These are all service-oriented fields that aren't usually accepted by Saudis, who look for what they consider a better opportunity in their homeland," he explained to us.
Some nationals did take up similar roles when they opened up, though they're considered a minority, Abdul Rahman added.
"This is why we don't see an immediate effect on national unemployment rates even though the numbers of those exiting the country is relatively high," he said.
"Most Saudis want government jobs or medium to high-ranking positions in private firms and you'll rarely see them take up other kinds of work," he added.
Some businesses are struggling to hire locals
According to a Business Insider report, Saudi business owners disclosed having difficulty getting locals who are "accustomed to undemanding work in the state sector and generous unemployment benefits" to work for them.
In an opinion piece published by Saudi Gazette in 2017, columnist Mohammad Al Bassnawi explained that the kingdom has struggled to Saudize several industries even though expats were barred from working in them. He attributed this to the fact that the majority of Saudis aren't even interested in expat-held jobs.
"Employers say young Saudi men and women are lazy and are not interested in working and accuse Saudi youth of preferring to stay at home rather than to take a low-paying job that does not befit the social status of a Saudi job seeker," Bassnawi wrote at the time.
In his column, Bassnawi detailed how private Saudi companies went about finding loopholes to a law that required them to hire a specific percentage of Saudis, when they couldn't find locals to fill up jobs.
Private companies resorted to a process called "fake Saudization," which involves hiring Saudis and paying them low salaries not to work but to be legally registered as workers at their establishments.
Not all Saudis are against working in low-wage jobs, though
Bassnawi explained that the kingdom needs more than Saudization programs to solve its chronic national unemployment problem. What it needs is a plan to change the perception so many young Saudi men and women hold about work.
His recommendation could cover, though not all, the majority of local youth who say it isn't their ambition to take up "low status" jobs.
Some Saudis are already receptive to working their way up the ladder when it comes to matters of employment.
Speaking to StepFeed earlier this year, 30-year-old Saudi business manager Aziz said he'd be willing to work in jobs deemed only fit for expats anytime.
"So many people here think these jobs are below them, but they're certainly not. It's shameful for anyone to think that they're too good to be working in any kind of profession," he explained.
Another Saudi local, Ala'a, told us many nationals have no problem working in any kind of job but fear societal judgment because many in the Gulf nation "correlate work with social class."