Supply solution
But private-sector companies are continuing to sidestep Saudization by using local recruitment companies.

“There are certain companies that can supply employees that are not counted as yours, they’re casuals.

“Most hotels are doing it this way to get over the Nitaqat system. So if you have 100 employees for example, 75 of those are yours and 25 are from outside and therefore not counted as your own labour,” Al Atiq revealed.

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Samir Kantaria, who heads up international law firm Al Tamimi and Co’s regional employment practise, commented: “These manpower supply companies are going to be doing a roaring trade.”

These recruitment consultants can be an expensive staffing option for hotels, according to Kantaria, who said “you end up paying more because the firms will charge you an addition on top of salaries and benefits”.

Yet a search for ‘manpower Saudi Arabia’ on brings up a host of such companies, many of which have marketed themselves as “rapidly expanding” organisations.

“The question we asked is ‘can I hire someone through a recruitment consultant or a manpower supply company so they don’t come under my sponsorship?’ Technically, as long as the supply firm is meeting its obligations, they can,” said Kantaria.

“If a hotel as part of the Nitaqat system didn’t have sufficient visas they could go to one of these companies. You usually find that only Saudi nationals can set up these companies,” he added.

Kantaria said he was uncertain as to whether Nitaqat applied to local business owners: “As far as I know there haven’t been guidelines issued, it’s almost being handled on an ad hoc basis. That’s the biggest problem. Before Nitaqat there was a quota, but it was never really enforced.”

Figures releases in 2011 estimated that 500,000 nationals remained unemployed in the Kingdom despite frequent government efforts to boost local employment in the private sector. Recent unrest across the Arab world is thought to have pushed the government to act quickly in the introduction of Nitaqat.

“With the Arab Spring, they want to ensure their people are looked after and the implementation of this programme is more rigorous than we’ve seen previously in terms of Saudization,” said Kantaria.

When asked what would happen if hotels did not meet quotas, Al Atiq said: “Most probably you won’t be given visas. It’s a big challenge, who knows what will happen in the future.

“We hope that they [the government] will realise that hotels aren’t like every private-sector industry, we depend mostly on expats for the jobs of housekeeping, stewards etc., and you cannot get Saudis easily.”