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Saudi Arabia population declines after expats left during Covid pandemic

June 29, 2022 at 9:31 pm

Health workers perform a nose swab test during a drive through coronavirus test campaign held in Diriyah hospital in the Saudi capital Riyadh on May 7, 2020 amid the COVID-19 pandemic [FAYEZ NURELDINE/AFP via Getty Images]

Saudi Arabia’s population has decreased by at least 2.6 per cent over the past two years, due to the significant amount of expatriate workers who left the Kingdom throughout the Covid-19 pandemic.

In a report published today by the Kingdom’s General Authority for Statistics (GASTAT), it stated that the country’s population in the middle of last year was 34.1 million, down from 35 million in the middle of 2020.

Back then, the Kingdom’s overall population consisted of 63.6 per cent who were Saudis and 36.4 per cent who were non-Saudi. According to the data by GASTAT, the primary factor contributing to the decline in Saudi Arabia’s population was the decrease in foreigners by 8.6 per cent, 10.6 per cent of whom were males leaving the Kingdom on an annual basis.

The Gulf’s coronavirus challenges

Within the first few months of the pandemic alone, by mid-2020, 1.2 million expats were reported to have left Saudi Arabia, many of whom were from South Asian countries such as India and Pakistan.

The exodus was especially exacerbated by the Saudi government’s harsh restrictions and measures implemented at the time, which saw many of them lose their jobs and have to deal with travel bans restricting the entry and exit of people into and out of the Kingdom.

The decrease in expats within Saudi Arabia also comes at a time when Riyadh – under the leadership of Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman – is encouraging the “Saudisation” of much of the Kingdom’s workforce, prioritising the hiring of Saudis for jobs instead of expats and foreigners.

Adapting to the new normal: Covid-19 and Pakistani workers in the Gulf