The Quest for Increased Saudization: Labor Market Outcomes and the Shadow Price of Workforce Nationalization Policies

Abstract:

Few countries have embraced active labor market policies to the same extent as Saudi Arabia. In the aftermath of the Arab Spring, the imperative of increasing Saudi employment became paramount. The country faced one of the highest youth unemployment rates in the world while over 80 percent of its private sector consisted of foreign labor. Since 2011, a wave of employment nationalization efforts has been mainly implemented through a comprehensive and strictly enforced industry and firm specific quota system known as Nitaqat. This paper assesses the employment gains as well as the costs and unintended consequences resulting from Nitaqat and related policies between 2011 and 2017. We find that while job nationalization policies generated significant initial gains in Saudi employment and labor force participation, the effects were heterogeneous across workers, firms and sectors. Moreover, our analysis suggests that the resulting unintended consequences far outweighed the benefits over time generating a less cost-effective and productivity inhibiting labor market composition.
 

CID Research Fellow & Graduate Student Working Paper: 132
Keywords: labor market, employment quotas, expatriate workers, workforce nationalization, Saudi Arabia, occupation, skills, labor productivity
JEL Classifications: J21, J23, J24, J31, J42
Last updated on 07/22/2021