Indians In the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia

Since 1947, India and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) enjoy cordial relations that extend to social and economic ties. The bilateral alliance between these two nations results from massive migrants’ outflux from India to Saudi Arabia, searching for income and livelihood. Both sides established the cornerstone of such an outpour with high-level visits and discussion.

After establishing a diplomatic link in 1947, India hosted King Saud in 1955. Subsequently, Saudi Arabia welcomed then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru to the Kingdom in 1956. The bilateral relations grew stronger with the visit of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi to Saudi Arabia in 1982. Recent visits from both the nations from 2006 to 2019 led to the signing of several accords, including the “Delhi Declaration” (signed on the sidelines of H.E. King Abdullah’s visit to India in 2006) and “Riyadh Declaration” (signed during the Prime Ministerial visit in 2019). All these official agreements transformed the bilateral relation between India and Saudi Arabia into a ‘Strategic Partnership,’ which is enjoyed by 2.6 million Indians residing in KSA.

Indian Labour Migration to Saudi Arabia

The migration of Indian workers to KSA surged after the oil boom in the country. In the 1970s, discovered oil fields in the Gulf countries played a vital role in attracting a large labor force to the GCC nations. The willingness of Asian laborers to work at poor remunerations filled the massive gap in the blue-collar workforce of Saudi Arabia. In the year 1975, Indian expatriates in KSA were in mere thousands, precisely 34,500. However, in the year 1987, this number grew to 380,000, with the following years seeing even more people migrating from India to KSA. The migration further rocketed to a sky-high number when India and KSA signed an agreement in January 2014 to manage and organize domestic workers’ recruitment. As per data available on various internet sources, approximately 500,000 Indians moved to Saudi for employment opportunities between then and April 2016. The agreement signed between two governments also includes a provision, which stipulates that sponsors have to pay a guarantee of $2,500 for each Indian worker they recruit. In 2016, out of all the GCC nations, Saudi Arabia had the highest number of Indian nationals.

As per the recent World Bank information, the KSA population is nearly 34.81 million. Indians are nearly 2.6 million, who make up the largest foreign community in KSA. However, in most cases, these people end up taking blue-collar job positions in the nation. Due to fewer working-class laborers in the nation, KSA welcomed the Indian diaspora into its blue-collar and unskilled jobs sector. More than 70 percent of total Indians in KSA work as laborers or technicians in the construction sector, domestic servants, and drivers.

But, in the past decade, there has been an increase in skilled and white-collar migration. Although the number of white-collar and high-ranking job posts is still lagging behind the blue-collar jobs, there is a steady increase in the Indian expatriates in job positions, including health, management, banking and finance, oil, teaching, and architecture sectors. These skilled workers also work as engineers, doctors, and architects.

The absence of accurate data around white-collar workers in KSA is due to them being overlooked by authorities, journalists, and scholars. The usual limelight on blue-collar workers never shines on the white-collar employees as they lead a healthy and wealthy life in Saudi. Among the several conservative Gulf nations, Saudi has still provided land for foreign workers to improve their lives, including highly skilled laborers who take up higher positions in a company. Their narrative often lacks the sob-story and plight that accompanies low or mid-skilled labor; their narrative entirely gets overlooked. Yet, the surge in white-collar workers in Saudi companies signifies that Indian migrants are no longer confined to doing menial jobs in KSA but claiming better opportunities that align with their education and skills.

Demographical Analysis along with Remittances to India

In the initial years of migration, Kerala held the record of the highest number of expatriates. However, in recent years, the immigrant’s number has shifted from Kerala to Uttar Pradesh (UP) and Bihar. At the same time, migrants from Kerala are more skilled and educated, UP and Bihar witness low-skilled workers’ migration. Besides UP and Bihar, states like Telangana, Tamil Nadu, and Rajasthan also see huge emigration to KSA. The decline in job prospects in these Indian states resulted in a massive migration of low to medium-skilled workers to KSA.

Such a shift from one state to another and a constant increase in Indian diaspora to KSA has hugely impacted the remittances. As per the Reserve Bank of India (RBI), out of the total remittances received in the country in 2018, 11.6 percent were received from KSA. Indians sent back nearly $80 billion to their families back in the nation, out of which approximately 10 billion were from Saudi Arabia. The highest remittance is sent to Kerala, which is followed by UP, Bihar, and Punjab.

Looking at the history, in 2012, as per a report by World Bank, India had received the top remittance beneficiary from KSA with $8.4 billion, just behind the US. However, World Bank Group predicts that there would be a record fall in remittances to India from KSA, and other countries are predicted to fall majorly in the upcoming years due to job loss and COVID scare.

Trends and Analysis of India Labour Migration to KSA

  • As per the Ministry of External Affairs, India, Saudi Arabia hosts 2.5 million Indian migrants and a mere number of 2800 Indian origin people.
  • The majority of migrant workers consist of males employed in blue-collar and low-skilled jobs in the oil, construction, and hospitality industry.
  • Almost all the women migrants work as domestic labor, with a fraction of them employed as nurses and receptionists.
  • Although most Indian workers are married, only a fraction of them is accompanied by their families (spouse and children) to Saudi.

Self-made Indian Businessmen in KSA

Accurate analysis and statistics on self-made Indian businessmen in Saudi are quite challenging due to low or negligible media coverage. However, there are a few Indian-origin businessmen who are making it big in KSA. As per Hurun Research Institute 2018, there were nine billionaires in Saudi, with five residing in Riyadh and three living in Jeddah. One of the famous self-made Indian billionaires in Saudi is Ravi Pillai, migrated to Saudi from Kerala. He started over his construction business in 1978 and built RP Group with a $7.8 Billion turnover.

Besides billionaires, several self-made Indian businessmen in Saudi generate brilliant opportunities for immigrants and locals. Unfortunately, no concrete data and statistics are present about these businessmen.

An Engineer by education, and a writer by profession, Ritika lives her life in stories. Her never-ending love for narratives encouraged her to turn her passion into a profession. In more than 4 years of working as a content writer, she has contributed to building content for a reputed technology magazine and a few start-ups.

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