Saudi Arabia saw unemployment among citizens rise in the first quarter despite more than 234,000 foreign workers leaving their jobs, according to labour data published on Thursday.
A General Authority for Statistics report showed the number of employed non-Saudis decreased from 10.417 million in the fourth quarter of 2017 to 10.183 million in the first quarter of 2018.
During the same period the number of employed Saudis also decreased 13,437 from 3.163 million to 3.150 million.
This meant the kingdom’s overall workforce shrank from 13.581 million to 13.333 million while Saudi unemployment rose from 12.8 to 12.9 per cent.
The figures may make tough reading for Saudi authorities, who had hoped Saudisation measures including a SAR300 or SAR400 ($80-107) monthly fee for each foreign worker a private sector company employs would boost recruitment of Saudi nationals.
More than 277,000 expats left their jobs in the kingdom in the fourth quarter of last year ahead of the measure’s implementation on January 1.
Foreign staff have also been hit by a SAR100 ($26.66) monthly fee for each of their dependent family members introduced in July last year. This and the foreign worker fee on companies is set to increase by SAR100 annually until 2020.
The new fees and charges have been combined with a wider drive from the labour ministry to decrease Saudi unemployment by barring foreigners from some sectors including car rental offices, gold and jewellery stores, shopping malls and other retail roles.
The number of Saudi job seekers during the first quarter declined nearly 14,400 from 1.086 million to 1.072 million but was disproportionately female at 899,313. The unemployed non-Saudi population rose from 53,210 to 68,543.
Figures released this month showed the kingdom’s economy returned to growth in Q1 after shrinking for the first time in eight years during 2017.