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Construction in Oman labour ministry's Nov 2018 expat visa ban update

Latest freeze on expat visas to take effect from 30 November as Omanisation takes centre-stage

Construction is one of the sectors for which expat visas have been suspended in Oman [representational image].
Construction is one of the sectors for which expat visas have been suspended in Oman [representational image].

Construction companies in Oman are likely to rethink their labour management plans after news emerged that the sultanate’s Ministry of Manpower has extended the ban on issuing expatriate employment visas to workers in the sector – among others – as part of its Omanisation drive.

The labour ministry’s decision number 487/2018 covers purchase and sales representatives, plus workers, in the construction, cleaning, and workshop sectors, according to local daily Times of Oman. The latest update, issued at the end of November 2018, means that companies in the three industries will not be able to receive new permits for employees in the aforementioned roles. Ministerial Decision No. 122/2014 of Oman states that workshop occupations include activities related to carpentry, aluminium, blacksmithing, and brick work.

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Due to take effect from 30 November, 2018, the ministry’s decision states that work permits for expatriates in Oman will be ceased during the next six months. The ban includes job titles such as sales representative, promoter, and purchase representative. However, permits for the replacement of existing employees will “continue to be released”, the report added.

The Omani labour ministry’s latest announcement extends its freeze on expat visas that was first issued for 87 professions in January 2018, and revived for another six-month period in July. 

“This law will apply to all private establishments, replacing the earlier decision,” the Times of Oman report continued, citing the ministry’s decision. 

An English-language copy of the latest update could not be located on the website of Oman’s Ministry of Manpower.

Mixed reactions have reportedly been expressed in response to the ministry’s decision, with Oman Chamber of Commerce and Industry’s (OCCI) head for its Al Dhairah Governorate headquarters, Saif Al Badi, stating that the decision is “exactly the opposite” of initial expectations and will have an impact on the private sector. 

“We were hoping the visa ban for these jobs would be halted or opened for a temporary period, but the decision is exactly the opposite, and that will not attract entrepreneurs to start businesses in these sectors,” Al Badi told Times of Oman. He added that sectors such as those listed within workshop operations are not attractive to Omanis, which may impact entrepreneurs working in the sultanate’s building industry.

“Most Omanis do not want to work in these sectors, especially construction, so business owners will face difficulty in finding manpower,” he explained, according to the report.

“Also, we have to take care of market conditions and the difficulties that the businessmen have faced to get permits to bring in expat employees, as the jobs, which allow for hiring expats are limited. The ministry has to support the entrepreneurs, who work at their own expense by facilitating their licences and granting them exemptions.”

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Omanisation is a key long-term priority for the sultanate, which has a population of 4.65 million, of which two million people are expats, according to ‘population clock’ data currently listed on National Centre for Statistics and Information’s website. This focus is visible in the projects being built by the sultanate’s homegrown employers. 

Duqm Refinery, the $7bn (OMR2.69bn) joint venture megaproject of Oman Oil Co and Kuwait Petroleum Corp, is due to create 800 jobs in the next four years. Eighty percent of these roles are aimed to be filled by nationals as part of Duqm Refinery’s Omanisation focus. Oman Sugar Refining Plant, for which the foundation stone was laid in Sohar Port this September, is another development – valued at $350m (OMR134m) – that will generate Omani jobs. The sultanate’s citizens will make up 30% of the factory’s workforce, with the figure growing to 90% in the following decade.

Human resources consultant Balram Manji said Oman’s latest labour law update to spur nationalisation is not unlike programmes implemented in the US to promote domestic employment, adding: “The immigration laws in many first-world nations are now being tightened and it is becoming more difficult to emigrate to many countries, because they realise that they need to give priority to their people.” According to Times of Oman, Manji said that the US’s “scaling back” of the popular American H1B visa programme is “the best example” of worldwide efforts to promote local employment. 

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