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 Migrant Conditions in Saudi Arabia: Perspectives on Challenges and Progress

The Holy Mecca City in Saudi Arabia


Saudi Arabia, a nation synonymous with economic prowess and cultural richness, has witnessed a remarkable metamorphosis in recent years, positioning itself as a global hub for investment and development. This transformation has not only redefined the Kingdom’s economic landscape but has also generated a magnetism that draws in a diverse multitude of migrants, each seeking a slice of the burgeoning opportunities the country has to offer. Amidst this influx, Saudi Arabia has taken commendable steps to elevate the living standards for its migrant population. However, as the nation navigates through this dynamic period, it becomes imperative to scrutinize the multifaceted perspectives that shape the experiences of migrants, acknowledging both the positive strides made and the nuanced challenges that persist. In this exploration, we delve into the narratives that encapsulate the migrant conditions in Saudi Arabia, recognizing the complexities that underscore this transformative period.

1.Economic Opportunities and Challenges:

a. Positive Perspective: A myriad of migrants perceives Saudi Arabia as an economic haven, beckoning with promising job prospects across diverse sectors such as construction, healthcare, and hospitality. The visionary Vision 2030 initiative, a cornerstone of Saudi Arabia’s national development strategy, stands as a testament to the country’s commitment to progress. This ambitious roadmap has not only catalyzed infrastructural advancements but has also created a conducive environment for foreign workers to actively participate and contribute to the nation’s dynamic goals. The positive perspective emphasizes the transformative potential of these economic opportunities, both for the migrants seeking better livelihoods and for Saudi Arabia in achieving its developmental aspirations.

b. Challenges: However, amid the promising landscape, challenges loom for certain migrants who grapple with issues like wage disparities, delayed payments, and arduous working conditions. The disparity in wages can often result in economic inequalities, fostering an environment where some workers may feel undervalued for their contributions. Delayed payments exacerbate financial uncertainties for these individuals, affecting their ability to meet basic needs and plan for the future. Additionally, challenging working conditions can lead to concerns related to occupational safety and well-being. Addressing these challenges is paramount to fostering a fair and equitable work environment, ensuring that all migrants experience job security and are afforded the dignity and respect they rightfully deserve. In confronting these issues, Saudi Arabia has the opportunity to fortify its commitment to the welfare and rights of all workers, contributing to a more sustainable and inclusive economic landscape.

2. Legal Reforms and Protections:

a. Positive Perspective: In a significant stride toward ensuring the well-being of migrants, Saudi Arabia has instituted comprehensive legal reforms aimed at safeguarding their rights. Initiatives such as the Wage Protection System and updates to the labor code stand as pillars of change, fostering a more transparent and equitable work environment. The Wage Protection System, in particular, ensures timely and accurate payment to workers, addressing concerns related to delayed payments. Simultaneously, updates to the labor code contribute to the establishment of clearer guidelines, enhancing the overall legal framework governing labor relations. These positive measures signify Saudi Arabia’s commitment to aligning its legal infrastructure with international standards, reinforcing the rights of migrants and creating a foundation for a just and humane working environment. As the nation continues on this path, it sets a precedent for the fair treatment of migrants, resonating with the broader ideals of social justice and human dignity.

b. Challenges: Despite the commendable strides made in legal reforms, challenges persist in the effective implementation and awareness of these protective measures. Gaps in the execution of regulations create a disconnect between policy intent and on-the-ground realities, potentially leaving room for exploitative practices to endure. A notable challenge lies in the lack of awareness among certain segments of the migrant population about their rights and the legal protections available to them. This information gap can result in a vulnerability that undermines the very essence of the legal reforms enacted. Additionally, the uniform enforcement of regulations across various sectors poses a formidable challenge, requiring concerted efforts to bridge the existing gaps. Addressing these challenges demands a multifaceted approach that includes educational initiatives, streamlined communication channels, and robust mechanisms for monitoring and enforcement. By overcoming these hurdles, Saudi Arabia can ensure that its legal reforms translate into tangible improvements, safeguarding the rights and dignity of all migrants within its borders.

3. Living Conditions and Social Integration:

a. Positive Perspective: Saudi Arabia’s commitment to elevating living conditions for migrants is evident through concerted efforts to improve housing facilities and community services. Initiatives such as the “A Nation Without Violations” campaign exemplify a proactive approach to address the challenges faced by undocumented migrants. By aiming to regularize the status of undocumented individuals, the campaign not only mitigates legal uncertainties but also contributes to fostering a sense of security and stability. The improvement of housing facilities aligns with the broader goal of enhancing the overall quality of life for migrants, creating an environment where they can thrive. These positive steps underscore Saudi Arabia’s recognition of the importance of social welfare and inclusivity, setting the stage for a more harmonious coexistence between migrants and the host community.

b. Challenges: Despite strides in improving living conditions, challenges persist, particularly in the realm of social integration. Limited social integration and language barriers pose significant hurdles that can impact the overall well-being of migrants. The lack of seamless integration into the host society can lead to feelings of isolation and cultural disconnection. Language barriers, in particular, can impede effective communication and hinder access to essential services, exacerbating the challenges faced by migrants in their daily lives. Addressing these issues is not only crucial for the individual well-being of migrants but is also fundamental to building a more inclusive society. By implementing initiatives that foster cultural understanding, promoting language education, and encouraging community engagement, Saudi Arabia can create a conducive environment where migrants feel welcomed and empowered, contributing to the realization of a truly inclusive and harmonious society.

Saudi Mega Project

4. Cultural Adaptation:

a. Positive Perspective: Embracing a positive outlook, many migrants find solace and enrichment in the rich cultural tapestry of Saudi Arabia. The Kingdom’s diverse society serves as a melting pot of traditions, allowing for a meaningful cultural exchange that transcends borders. Migrants often appreciate the opportunity to immerse themselves in the local customs, cuisine, and festivities, fostering a sense of unity among inhabitants. The positive perspective on cultural adaptation underscores the potential for mutual understanding and appreciation, as both migrants and the host community contribute to the vibrant mosaic that defines Saudi Arabian society. This cultural symbiosis not only enriches the experiences of migrants but also strengthens the social fabric, promoting a sense of shared identity and collective harmony.

b. Challenges: However, amidst the rich cultural exchange, challenges may arise due to cultural differences, occasionally leading to misunderstandings and discomfort for migrants. These disparities, ranging from social norms to communication styles, can pose hurdles to seamless integration. To address these challenges, fostering cultural awareness and sensitivity becomes imperative. Both migrants and the host community can benefit from educational initiatives that promote understanding and respect for diverse cultural backgrounds. Encouraging open dialogue and creating platforms for cross-cultural exchange can mitigate potential tensions, facilitating a more inclusive environment. By actively promoting cultural competency on both sides, Saudi Arabia can bridge the gap between diverse communities, nurturing an atmosphere where differences are celebrated and contribute to the collective richness of the Kingdom’s cultural identity.

5. Healthcare Access:

a. Positive Perspective: Noteworthy advancements have been made in enhancing healthcare accessibility for migrants in Saudi Arabia, painting a positive picture of the nation’s commitment to the well-being of its diverse population. The introduction of the Seha (Health) System stands as a testament to these strides, streamlining the process for migrants to access medical services more efficiently. This comprehensive healthcare initiative aims to ensure that migrants receive timely and adequate medical attention, contributing to the overall health and resilience of the migrant community. The positive perspective reflects Saudi Arabia’s recognition of the importance of equitable healthcare, underscoring its dedication to creating an inclusive healthcare system that addresses the diverse needs of all residents, irrespective of their background or status.

b. Challenges: However, despite notable improvements, challenges persist in the form of disparities in healthcare quality and access, particularly impacting undocumented migrants. The nuances of legal status can become barriers, hindering some individuals from accessing the same level of healthcare services as their documented counterparts. Addressing these gaps is crucial for the overall well-being of the migrant population, as it underscores the importance of equitable healthcare access for all residents. Tackling these challenges involves developing targeted initiatives that ensure undocumented migrants receive necessary medical attention without facing legal repercussions. By prioritizing healthcare inclusivity, Saudi Arabia can reinforce its commitment to the health and dignity of all individuals within its borders, promoting a society where everyone can access essential medical services regardless of their legal status.

6. Education and Skill Development:

a. Positive Perspective: Saudi Arabia has undertaken commendable initiatives, exemplified by the “Quality of Life” program, with a focus on augmenting education and skill development opportunities for migrants. This forward-looking program not only prioritizes personal growth but also emphasizes capacity-building among the migrant community. By providing access to education and skill development, the Kingdom contributes to empowering migrants with the tools necessary for both personal and professional advancement.

b. Challenges: Despite these positive strides, challenges persist in ensuring uniform accessibility to educational opportunities. Language barriers, in particular, stand as a formidable hurdle that can impede the skill development process. Addressing these challenges requires a comprehensive approach that encompasses language education, inclusive curriculum development, and targeted outreach programs. Ensuring equal access to education and training is vital for the holistic development of migrants, empowering them to contribute meaningfully to the social and economic fabric of Saudi Arabia. By addressing these challenges, the Kingdom can further solidify its commitment to the well-rounded development of its migrant population.

7. Family Reunification and Social Support:

a. Positive outlook: Saudi Arabia’s commitment to the well-being of migrants is underscored by the introduction of the family reunification program. Recognizing the fundamental importance of keeping families together, these initiatives contribute to the overall social structure and emotional stability of immigrants. Social assistance programs complement these efforts, providing a holistic approach to integration by helping immigrants build connections within communities. These initiatives recognize the importance of family ties in fostering a sense of belonging and stability among immigrant populations.

b. Challenges: Despite positive intentions, challenges exist in the form of bureaucratic hurdles and delays in the family reunification process. These challenges can impose significant stress and emotional strain on migrants, disrupting the stability of the family unit. Streamlining these processes is essential not only to reduce the emotional burden on migrants, but also to increase family stability, which plays an important role in the successful integration of migrants into the wider Saudi society. By addressing bureaucratic challenges, Saudi Arabia can strengthen its commitment to family reunification, contributing to the overall social cohesion and well-being of migrant families.

8. Safety and Security Concerns

a. Positive View: Emphasizing its commitment to the safety and security of all residents, Saudi Arabia has implemented strict measures to curb crime and maintain public order. This dedication contributes to building a generally safe environment for all, including migrants. The positive approach emphasizes the importance of creating a safe and secure space for migrants, in alignment with broader efforts to ensure the well-being of all individuals within the state.

b. Challenges: Despite strong security measures, challenges persist and some migrants may still face security concerns, especially if they are unaware of local regulations or lack proper documentation. Raising awareness and communication becomes important to reduce potential risks and ensure that migrants are well informed of their rights and responsibilities. By addressing these challenges, Saudi Arabia can strengthen its commitment to providing a safe environment for all residents, instilling a sense of trust and stability among the expatriate community.


In the midst of Saudi Arabia’s transformative journey, the expatriate experience has both the promise of opportunity and the complexity of challenges. Positive progress in economic opportunities, legal reforms, living conditions, cultural adaptation, access to health care, education, family reunification and security systems reflect the state’s commitment to creating an inclusive and equitable environment. However, the challenges faced by immigrants, such as wage inequality, legal awareness gaps, social integration barriers, health care inequality, educational accessibility issues, family reunification delays and security concerns emphasize the need for consistent and comprehensive efforts.

Addressing this challenge requires a collaborative, multidimensional approach that involves governments, the private sector, civil society and international organizations. Positive initiatives undertaken by Saudi Arabia lay a foundation, but sustained efforts are essential to bridge the gap and build a society where the well-being and contributions of all residents, regardless of their background, are valued. A commitment to ongoing dialogue and cooperation will not only refine policies but also contribute to Saudi Arabia’s evolution as a model of immigrant integration, respecting the dignity and rights of all within its borders. As the Kingdom navigates this dynamic landscape, the pursuit of inclusion and equity will be key to shaping a prosperous and harmonious future for expatriates in Saudi Arabia.

Billal Hossain
Billal Hossain
Billal Hossain, a seasoned professional with a Master's degree in Mathematics, has built a rich and varied career as a banker, economist, and anti-money laundering expert. His journey in the financial sector has seen him in leading roles, notably in AL-Rajhi Banking Inc. in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and as Foreign Relations and Correspondent Maintenance Officer of Bank-AL-Bilad. Beyond the confines of traditional finance, Billal has emerged as a prominent writer and commentator, contributing thought-provoking columns and theses to various newspapers and online portals. His expertise spans a wide range of important global issues, including the complexities of economics, political dynamics, the plight of migrant workers, remittances, reserves, and other interrelated aspects. Billal brings a unique analytical perspective to his writing, combining academic rigor with practical insights gained from his banking career. His articles not only demonstrate a deep understanding of complex issues but also provide readers with informed perspectives, bridging the gap between theory and real-world application. Billal Hossain's contributions stand as a testament to his commitment to unraveling the complexities of our interconnected world, providing valuable insights that contribute to a broader and more nuanced understanding of the global economic landscape.


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