Know Your Diaspora: Saudi Arabia

The Al Batha Filipino District (Photo by Oliver dela Peña)

There are 1.5 million overseas Filipino workers in Saudi Arabia, which is the biggest employer of overseas Filipino workers. They work as nurses and aides in hospitals. Many are project managers, technicians and office helpers in major business operations. Filipinos also work as shop clerks, restaurant service workers and domestic workers in private homes. They sent back to the Philippines up to $1.4 billion dollars in 2009.

Filipino domestic workers are again in huge demand after a new agreement between the Saudi and Philippine governments recently went into effect, after a temporary halt in recruitment. The new contract agreement, which has 19 articles, will guarantee both parties’ rights, including a monthly salary of SR 1,500 ($400) to be paid directly to the household workers through their bank account. It also prevents maids from working at any place other than their sponsor’s residence and gives them the right to keep passport and iqama (residency permit) in their custody. Philippine officials say that domestic workers in Saudi Arabia for the first time will be amply protected.

Saudi Arabia, a country of 24 million, is a monarchy with a consultative council and council of ministers. Its constitution is the Quran while governance and the legal system are based on Islamic law. Municipal elections were incrementally introduced in 2005. The kingdom was unified under King Abdul Aziz al Saud in 1932. It has a dry desert climate of high temperature extremes. Oil was discovered in 1936 and oil production has been the basis of the country’s wealth. Petroleum, iron, gold and copper are its other natural resources. Wages vary according to one’s nationality or passport, skills and professional level. 

According to Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) 123,048 Filipino workers arrived in Saudi Arabia in 2009 alone, among them were 48,109 women.  Saudi Arabia’s economy is based on oil extraction and production. It has 25 percent of the world’s oil reserves and a GDP of $593 billion. The World Bank considers Saudi Arabia the most stable of Arab economies. 

Up to seven million workers are needed to run its industries, and 80 percent of these are imported overseas workers. Other foreign workers--Pakistanis, Indians, Africans and people from other Arab countries—are also working in various fields. There are efforts to increase the proportion of native workers to foreign ones through job substitution, or “Saudization.” Success has been intermittent. 

Filipinos join the Hajj in Saudi Arabia. (Photo by Rommel S. Bautista)

Filipinos have a vibrant community in Saudi Arabia and now play a vital role in the Saudi economy. Riyadh has a “mini-Manila” with shops and restaurants managed by Filipinos. As foreigners who are mostly non-Muslim they tend to face racism, workplace and sexual abuse like other foreign workers. They can also be subjected to extremely harsh judicial punishments.

Life as a foreign worker is simple but very boring, especially for singles. Saudi Arabia is very good option for Filipinos seeking financial stability and savings. But culturally, it can be challenging. Saudi Arabia is predominantly Muslim. Some 10 to 15 percent of Filipinos are Muslim and five percent have converted to Islam. Non-Muslims have to be extra careful not to violate religious restrictions imposed by the government. The religious police have arrested a number of Filipinos and their pastors for conducting religious activities in their homes.

While Saudi Arabia is the hottest market for immigrant workers due to its stable and growing economy, most Filipino OFWs do not consider it their best option; many would still prefer to work in the United States or parts of Western Europe.


H.E. (Mr.) Ezzedin H. Tago
Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary
D3 Collector Road C, Diplomatic Quarter,
P.O. Box 94366, Riyadh 11693
Tel. Nos.(+9661) 482-3615 (+9661) 482-3615, 482-0507, 482-1801, 482-3816, 482-4354,488-0835, 482-0474, 480-3662
Fax No. (+9661) 488-3945 / 482-1856