Complex Made Simple

Blue collar Yemeni workers in Saudi face the dire prospect of returning home

Hundreds of Yemeni medical staff, academics and other professionals in Saudi's southern region bordering Yemen have in recent weeks been told they are being let go. That's a harsh reality with Yemen facing a humanitarian crisis

Saudi hosts 2 million Yemeni workers This current wave of redundancies appears to only affect educated professionals The war displaced 4 million and destroyed the country's educational and health sectors

Hundreds of Yemeni medical staff, academics and other professionals in Saudi’s southern region bordering Yemen have, in recent weeks, been told they are being let go, several Yemenis told Reuters.

The exact number is not known. Staff said they were not provided justification for government orders to stop renewing contracts of Yemenis.

A Saudi analyst told Reuters the move aimed to free up jobs for citizens in the south as part of efforts to tackle Saudi unemployment of 11.7%.

Saudi hosts 2 million Yemeni workers, according to the Sanaa Center for Strategic Studies.  

Most send money home where prospects are bleak due to the war. The World Bank estimates 1 in 10 people in Yemen rely on money transfers for basic needs.

Remittances are also an important source of foreign currency for Yemen, whose government is struggling to pay public sector wages.

Several Yemeni professors who spoke with colleagues at universities in the south told Reuters that Najran University was ending the contracts of 100 Yemenis. Around 200 staff at other southern universities face a similar fate.

The Saudi government has sought to hire more of its own citizens to the workforce, with Yemenis complaining in recent years that they have had to make way for Saudis.

Occasional mass expulsions have been witnessed in recent years, yet for the most part, the victims have been low-skilled or undocumented workers, rather than middle-class professionals.

Meanwhile, Riyadh has raised fees charged for Yemenis’ dependents, making it prohibitively expensive to live in Saudi Arabia for some.

This current wave of redundancies appears to only affect educated professionals.

A document leak

Weeks prior to these latest expulsions, leaks about the Saudi authorities’ request from local employers in the kingdom’s southern governorates to dispense with their Yemeni workers had raised fears of the imminent deportation of hundreds of thousands of Yemenis residing in these areas.

A leaked classified document was reported by local sources to have comprised a request to “transfer their existing Yemeni workers to other branches outside these provinces, or employ them in other companies.”

Those companies could fire these workers, cancel their residencies, and deport them within a four-month period, provided that Saudi employees or those of other nationalities assume their duties.

The sources added that the document had included an order of “not only terminating their [Yemenis] work contracts but also preventing them renewing their housing contracts in these areas.”

Yemen’s dire humanitarian and economic situation

Yemen has been mired in a civil war since late 2014.

Since then, the Yemeni economy has collapsed, sending commodity prices to soar and pushing millions of families to the brink of starvation.

The war displaced 4 million and destroyed the country’s educational and health sectors.

Yemen imports about 90% of its food. The war destroyed infrastructure, while the decline of the private sector and the non-payment of salaries in the public sector, in the country’s north, have together contributed to the rise in food prices.

Mustafa Nasr, head of the Center for Studies and Economic Media in Yemen, said: “The Yemeni riyal has lost more than two-thirds of its value. The government has lost its basic resources, and millions of Yemenis have lost their sources of income.”

A May 2021 analysis shows “the cost of the minimum food basket was 20% higher than the already significantly above-average levels recorded at the beginning of January 2021.”

After 7 years of conflict and economic crisis, many Yemenis have exhausted their savings and sold off all valuable assets like property or livestock.

Some 80% of Yemen’s 30 million population is reliant on some sort of aid. The UN has called Yemen the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

According to the IMF May-June 2021 consultations, “(Economic) output is expected to contract a further 2% in 2021 after declining 8.5% in 2020. Continued financing of the fiscal deficit by the central bank and resultant exchange rate depreciation, together with rising international food and fuel prices, will contribute to further rapid inflation.”