The purpose of this research is to define the human resource development problem in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, which involves the importation into that country of guest workers. This research also establishes the political, social, and economic contexts of the problem.
THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE PROBLEM
Gaining control of its crude oil resources provided Saudi Arabia with the funds which enabled the country to embark on a massive program of economic and social development. Prior to the time this development began, the foreign workers who had been in the country were few in number, and they were employed in highly skilled or managerial positions, who were effectively isolated from most of the Saudi population.
These foreign workers were representatives of foreign governments or of foreign private sector organizations, advisers to the Saudi government, highly placed public administrators in the Saudi bureaucracy, or skilled workers in the oil fields. None of these workers either enjoyed or expected any political rights. Neither did they live among or mingle with ordinary Saudi citizens.
In the case of the oil field workers and their supervisors, they lived in well-appointed compounds, which provided for all of their daily needs. Within these compounds, foreign workers were expected to conform to Saudi behavioral norms, such as an abstinence from the consumption of alcohol.
With the advent, however, of the five-year plans, through which development in Saudi Arabia was programmed, the Saudi government found it necessary to bring into the country many thousands more foreign workers. Most of these newer foreign workers were far less skilled and educated than those foreign workers previously found in the country.
In many instances, these new foreign workers perform the less skilled tasks required in the development projects while, in other instances, they perform menial tasks in Saudi cities that the now wealthier Saudis no longer desired to perform. As a result of their functions in Saudi society, it has not been possible for the Saudi government to isolate this new group of foreign workers from casual contact with the Saudi population.
This new group of foreign workers enjoy no more political rights within the country than did the more skilled and educated workers who preceded them. Because their casual contact with the Saudi population cannot be precluded, however, a significant proportion of the Saudi population has been exposed to whatever political and social ideas these newer foreign workers possess.
THE EXTENT OF THE PROBLEM
As recently as 1974, more than one-quarter of the population of Saudi Arabia was officially classified as nomadic. Between 1974 and 1984, however, the total population of the country grew by more than one-third–to 9.7 million, and the nomadic segment of the population was reduced to approximately one-million, or 10.3 percent. Thus, by 1984, Saudi Arabia’s non-nomadic population numbered approximately 8.7 million.
In 1984, foreign workers in Saudi Arabia on a temporary basis accounted for about one-fifth of the country’s total population. These approximately two million guest workers, however, accounted for almost 23 percent of the country’s non-nomadic population. Further, a great majority of the guest workers in Saudi Arabia are employed in the country’s major urban areas. Approximately one-half of the country’s total population–4.8 million–reside in these major urban areas. As a proportion of Saudi Arabia’s urban population, guest workers represent 41.7 percent.
THE CHARACTER OF THE PROBLEM
Within the context of social stratification, the process of social modernization creates social groupings which did not previously exist within the affected society, as well as changing the relationships between those social groupings already in existence within the society. In Saudi Arabia, the five-year development programs, including the guest worker program, created new social groupings within the society. Among the more significant of these new social groupings are the following:
1. An educated group which is not a part of the traditional elite of the country.
2. A vastly enlarged educated group within the female segment of the population (most of these women are a part of the first group; however, their status as educated women within Saudi society is significant.)
3. A middle-income group within the society (prior to this development, Saudi society was composed primarily of the very poor and the poor, and the wealthy and the very wealthy.)
4. A vastly enlarged group within the population with exposure to foreign social mores and political values (prior to this development, only a few students from wealthy and very wealthy families were sent to Europe and North America for university-level education, as opposed to the sending of large numbers of qualified students from all socioeconomic strata, which began in the late-1960s, and as opposed to the prior almost total absence of contact with foreigners in everyday Saudi life.)
5. A lower socio-economic foreign worker group, which has no political rights within the country.
As a consequence of the collapse of world crude oil prices, the government of Saudi Arabia can no longer fund the guest worker program as easily as it could a few years ago. The guest worker program, thus, has become a financial strain on the country’s economy–particularly with respect to the use of foreign currency reserves. A cessation of the guest worker program, however, would also involve problems for the country. The presence within the country of massive numbers of foreign workers (in relation to the size of the number of Saudi citizens in the country’s population) also poses problems of a social and political character for the country. Among the more significant of the problems associated with a cessation of the guest worker program are the following:
1. A shortage (at least temporarily) of qualified workers in some industries and on some development projects.
2. A shortage (at least temporarily) of unskilled or low-skilled labor, and a shortage of household labor.
A POTENTIAL POLICY SOLUTION
A potential policy solution to the guest worker problem is the development of a program which would train Saudi citizens to perform the tasks now performed by foreign workers in Saudi society. In addition to the costs, development, and other problems associated with such a program, the Saudi government must also consider the political and social costs of such a program. Following the years of affluence, few Saudi citizens will likely be agreeable to either training for or performing unskilled, low-skilled, or domestic jobs. Were the Saudi government to attempt to compel Saudi citizens to train for and perform such tasks, it could result in political and social unrest in the country.