Saudi Arabia’s top religious cleric claimed the government’s decision to significantly increase fees for companies that employ expats could affect the national economy, according to Saudi Gazette.
Following the introduction of a new levy in November, employers with a higher proportion of foreign staff than Saudis must pay SAR2,400 (US$640) each year per overseas employee.
While the move has earned praise from the likes of Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, the Arab world's wealthiest businessman, the controversial policy has now drawn criticism from Saudi Arabia's Grand Mufti, the kingdom's highest religious authority. Sheikh Abdulaziz Al-Alsheikh described the decision as "unjustifiable" and said it was “not based on clear judgment”.
"The Ministry of Labour has to explain the logic justifying this levy on expats,” he was quoted as saying during a recent lecture at Imam Turki Bin Abdullah Mosque in Riyadh.
“Are there any convincing reasons for levying this amount
of money on expatriates?”
He urged the ministry to review its decision and suggested expats could sue the government over the “excessive” payment.
In an unusual move, the Shoura Council was not consulted over the fee hike, according to Saudi Gazette.
Meanwhile, chambers of commerce and industry claimed the decision could deter expats from going to Saudi Arabia or remaining there, potentially affecting the national economy.
The Ministry of Labour introduced the policy in a bid to keep unemployment among Saudi nationals under control, which is currently about 12.2 percent. Roughly nine-tenths of employees in the private sector are from overseas, according to official estimates.