Saudi Arabia has an abundance of shopping malls but foreigners will no longer be allowed to work in them, after an announcement by the Ministry of Labor and Social Development which aims to boost local employment.

Nationals currently make up only one in five staff in the retail sector. It could mean a considerable shortfall in available workers, although the ministry has not yet specified a timeline for implementing the ruling.

"The minister of labour and social development has issued a decision restricting the work in malls across the kingdom to only Saudi men and women," the labour ministry said on Twitter.

The kingdom’s economic focus is on creating more jobs for nationals, rather than more jobs for all. In March, the government announced its ambitious digitisation plan will create half a million new jobs for Saudis by 2020.

Last year the government banned foreigners from selling mobile phones in Saudi Arabia, with results including the shutting down of many mobile phone shops that couldn’t meet the required quota of 50 per cent local staff.

As well as being excluded from an increasing number of jobs and industries, expats in Saudi Arabia must also pay a dependents fee from 1 July for any non-working family members they bring with them. The fee will increase each year and could mean a family of four with one working person must pay SAR 14,400.

The government has been incentivising many organisations to hire locals as it attempts to simultaneously reduce unemployment among nationals and diversify its economy away from overdependence on oil.

The latest official figures showed that Saudi’s private sector employs 10.4 million people, but only 1.7 million are Saudis, representing 16 per cent of the total workforce.

In November, the country launched a tech sector initiative to tackle youth unemployment by training rain 5,000 tech leaders, developers and designers each year. Nearly half the country’s local population is under 25 and a around quarter of those under 30 are unemployed.

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