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Times of Oman - 23.02. 2015


Looking back over 2014, the regulations issued from various authorities regarding expats have been many.  Have any of these regulations actually supported the country in its growth and ability to retain and entice investments into Oman?  Personally, I don't think some of them have helped at all – on the contrary some of the regulations have been restrictive in assisting the country meet its objectives.  There are, of course, exceptions and one regulation, in particular, if properly understood is, I believe, a positive step.

I am referring to what people refer to as the 'two-year ban'.  There appears to be a belief that whenever you wish to leave one job to move to another you would have to have an NOC which may result in your current employer losing your clearance and if an NOC is not issued that you cannot return for two years.  

My understanding of this regulation – which many are still struggling to get to grips with, including those meant to implement the regulation – is that to leave your employer and move to another job in Oman is not difficult at all.  As long as you have completed two years service and your new employer has a labour clearance it is simple.  

You get an NOC, you exit and return on the new visa.  The old company keeps the visa to be able to replace you and you come in on a new visa.  No problem with that.  

A problem does arise if you want to move from your first company to the second without exiting.  Your employer would lose the labour clearance if they issued an NOC in these circumstances – but what is the problem with exiting and coming in again?  

I also don't understand why it is a requirement for an  expat to exit – how does that help anyone other than the airlines?  It adds an additional cost to the old and new employer which causes unnecessary processes to be undertaken (like closing bank accounts, leaving your home etc) which are completely unnecessary.

This regulation is meant to support companies who have invested time and money in bringing in an expat only to find they leave within a matter of months and that they do not complete the two year contract.   This practice should be restricted and the government is right to do so. It is only fair to the employer that he gets some return on his investment in bringing the new expat into Oman.

The other quirk in this regulation which I don't understand the value of, is that of restricting return for tourism purposes.  Once an expat leaves, they should be able to return to Oman as a tourist, if they wish – with or without an NOC.  

The current position is that an NOC is required to visit on holiday for some nationalities – this then has a negative impact on tourism.  Many expats who leave would wish to visit this beautiful country and friends and family that they have left behind, only to find themselves in the position of not being able to do so.  Another necessary part of this regulation perhaps?

It is apparent that the ban on female labour clearances has impacted heavily on the hospitality and tourism sector in particular (a sector high on the list for support by the government for growth), this combined with the general difficulty of getting any clearances for anyone has meant that hotels are running at two-thirds staffing levels as they are unable to recruit sufficient staff.  

In addition, spas and salons in the city are finding it impossible to recruit female hairdressers and beauty therapists – one salon that I know of even being told by the Ministry that they could have a male clearance – really in a female salon!   The retail sector is also particularly hard hit.  There is a perception as to why this ban on female clearances is in place but dealing with the issue caused by a few people, rather than a blanket ban is the way forward – using 'a hammer to crack a nut' comes to mind.

Looking at the ban on some other clearance types – I can understand camel keeper as surely there are many very competent nationals for this role, far more so than individuals from any other nation outside the GCC, and even sales and business development as this is an area in which many Omanis could perform well but carpenters?  Where are the people required who have the skills and experience to fill these positions?
One area I do understand to some degree is saying that families cannot join for six months.  

Whilst appreciating that this is difficult for the family, it would be worse to relocate, particularly if children's schooling is involved, and find that things don't work out.  The cost to the employer of having the family join would just be like throwing money in the bin.   Personally I would not have come to Oman if that had been the regulation five years ago but it is a personal choice – and a hard one to make.  I imagine this would mean that many more senior people, who have the option of more choices outside Oman, would decide not to come without their families.  

Those hit by this legislation will be the lower level or lower paid employees, many of whom keep this country running.  Given there is a 600 OMR limit anyway, is the six months necessary – perhaps three months would be more appropriate?  Surely this should be a decision for the company to make based on the individual and the position for which they are recruiting and not a decision for the authorities?

I fully appreciate that Oman wishes to be more self sufficient – but it is clear that today Oman is not ready for this.  There are insufficient qualified people with experience to take on many roles and to force nationals into positions before they are ready is not good for the individual, the company they are working for (and therefore its employees) and the country.  

Many positions that could be taken by a national will not be taken up meaning that expats are required to do these jobs or things will grind to a halt.

The up and coming generation of qualified individuals need to start work in the lower echelons of business and work their way up to become the fully rounded managers and bosses of the future.   Being lead to believe that you are automatically qualified to take a senior position when you gain your degree is not helping that individual to fulfill his or her potential.  

Putting an Omani into a position just to meet nationalization targets is damaging to the individual and the company.  This manner of nationalisation does not support long term growth and development but also leads to a lower ceiling being in place in terms of this individual's personal growth.  

Without the experience they will never reach the heights they otherwise could achieve. Other jobs, particularly lower level jobs that could be filled by Omanis need to be seen as valuable jobs for the individual to take – irrespective of the sector or level – in terms of personal growth and input to the country.  Until Oman has sufficient workforce in terms of number of people of the right age, experience and skills, expats will be needed to ensure future prosperity.   

Many companies are already facing difficulties in recruiting internationally and bringing the necessary skills and experience into Oman and making those expats that are already here feel unwanted and insecure will mean that Oman will be exposing itself to difficulties in the future.  Many expats have left Oman during 2014 and many more are planning to do so.

A level of management of expats into any country is necessary but these controls should be in place to support the country by enabling the skills necessary still to be employed, whilst at the same time developing the skills of nationals. Stopping the entry of skilled expats before developing the national workforce will, without a doubt, limit Oman's potential.

Given the country's current situation, allowing free enterprise and particularly private sector SME's to grow without unnecessary constraints needs to be on the agenda of those in the position to make these decisions.

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