Times are a-changing in the oil-rich sheikhdoms of West Asia, with most of these countries deciding to restrict the number of foreign nationals and increase the share of local Arabs in overall economic activity. India will be affected in a big way by this growing Arabisation as millions of its workers were attracted to these countries since the 1970s to help build airports, highways and other infrastructure. Once these facilities were built, the signals were clear that they would be no more required. But now these have an official imprimatur. Saudi Arabia has decided to lower by 30 per cent the number of foreign workers over the next three years. This decision is bound to adversely impact the 1.8 million Indian expatriate community in that country. For starters, this intention includes the compulsory employment of Saudi nationals in 25 retail business activities shops for clothes, toys, auto spare parts, paints, building and plumbing materials and canteens in schools and government offices. The substitution of local workers in these relatively low skill-intensive activities will commence in a years time. This process apparently got underway after the Shoura Council, the legislative body in Saudi Arabia, approved a Bill in April limiting jobs in the wholesale and retail trade to Saudi citizens.
Saudi Arabias decision may well be followed by other Arab nations as well. The growing Arabisation also signals the determination of these countries to radically improve their human development profile. UNDPs Arab Human Development Report 2003 highlights that the low knowledge acquisition in the region has been influenced by the high dependence on oil: This rentier economic pattern entices societies to import expertise from outside because this is a quick and easy resort that however ends up weakening local demand for knowledge and forfeiting opportunities to produce it locally and employ it effectively in economic activity. Taking charge of their affairs is a step towards their desire to bridge the knowledge gap. Indian expats will be less welcome and only those with skills can hope to remain in West Asia. Besides the millions of unskilled workers returning home is the prospect of lower remittance inflows and its impact on Indias balance of payments.