Survey: The expansion of localisation within the GCC region

Survey: The expansion of localisation within the GCC region News developments

Survey: The expansion of localisation within the GCC region

Vialto Partners and LexisNexis 2024 Survey

In recent years there has been a noticeable trend in the GCC region regarding the implementation of localisation policies. These policies have had a profound impact on various aspects of the workforce, including recruitment, training, and internal promotions.


One prominent example is the expansion of Emiratisation in relation to United Arab Emirates (UAE) 2021 Vision Strategy, which saw the UAE authorities introduce further mandatory requirements for Mainland companies in 2022 and 2023 respectively, to enhance initiatives targeted at employing local talent. Similarly, we also saw the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) implement rigorous Saudisation rules and regulations, aimed at specific industries and professions to promote the employment of Saudi nationals. In respect to these developments, Vialto Partners and LexisNexis joined forces in early 2024 to conduct a comprehensive corporate survey on the challenges and impact of localisation policies on businesses operating within the GCC region.

Key Findings

  • Seventy-eight percent (78%) of businesses who participated in the survey were able to meet their localisation quotas and found the changes implemented by the authorities to be positive, as it led to more opportunities for GCC employees within their organisations.
  • Twenty-two percent (22%) of businesses faced difficulties meeting localisation quotas as they found the requirements to be challenging, impractical and unrealistic, which was also exacerbated by a lack of local specialised talent.
  • Eighty-nine percent (89%) of businesses found that localisation policies contributed to their organisations creating internal programmes and employing staff internally to accommodate and meet the demands of localisation policies. Despite this, seventy-eight percent (78%) of businesses found that meeting localisation policies contributed to an increase in labour and operational costs.
  • Twenty-two percent (22%) of businesses found that localisation policies did not lead to new opportunities for GCC nationals within their organisations and they did not experience an increase in labour or operational costs.
  • Sixty-one percent (61%) of businesses found that they already had global policies for assignments in place for international staff. Whereas thirty-nine percent (39%) of businesses did not have any global policies in place for international staff, and eleven percent (11%) did not have any internal programmes for training and development.
  • Fifty-three percent (53%) of businesses changed their policies on opportunities for international staff to meet the demand of localisation quotas. In contrast, forty-seven percent (47%) of businesses reported that they had already implemented diversity and inclusion initiatives (which was not aimed at a specific nationality or origin) prior to the implementation of localisation rules.

Overall, employers found localisation policies to be challenging yet reasonable within the GCC region, as it encouraged businesses to work closely with local authorities and communities to attract and retain local talent.

Key Trends

  • Some employers were successful with meeting, or even surpassing localisation quotas by implementing a comprehensive plan which included targeting roles to be filled by a local employee versus a foreign national, as well as employing skilled professions who were experts with managing localisation policies. As a result, the actions from these employers showed the importance for businesses to adapt and tailor their operational objectives to align with localisation initiatives, through meticulous and strategic planning.
  • Some employers found meeting localisation quotas to be difficult and unattainable, as it limited their ability to employ foreign skilled workers, in lieu of local talent who did not possess the necessary skill set to meet their business needs. For example, organisations which participated in the survey noted that due to the restrictions imposed by localisation policies in KSA and Kuwait, they were restricted from recruiting talent internationally, which in turn, created a skilled worker shortage and prevented these companies from being able to compete in local economies. As a result, some companies were unable to meet the requirements to bid for government contracts and projects.
  • Some employers found the rules and regulations published by GCC authorities on localisation policies to be fluid, unclear and difficult to ascertain, as the rules were constantly changing. This was also accompanied by tight deadlines for implementation, thus businesses felt under pressure to meet these regulatory provisions, as they did not want to be penalised financially or risk reputational damages. As such, businesses wanted to avoid administrative penalties such as:
    • The inability to renew or hire new employees due to a suspension from using their company’s portal.
    • The downgrade of the company’s registration category, leading to increased government hiring fees, limited work permit quotas and loss of revenue.

Practical Considerations

There are initiatives which GCC authorities have introduced to help businesses target and retain local talent, whilst also incentivising them. For example, the UAE authorities implemented the Nafis programme to encourage Emirati nationals to apply for jobs in the private sector through a wide range of incentives such as:

  • The introduction of on-the-job training and apprenticeship programmes, targeted at Emirati nationals who have recently graduated from school, university or returning to work after a prolonged break.
  • The introduction of a child allowance scheme which offers financial support to Emirati nationals in the private sector who have children and earn a salary below AED 50,000 per month. Through this initiative, Emirati nationals can return to work and claim a monthly allowance of AED 600 per child.
  • The introduction of an Emirati salary support scheme which has been designed to provide support to Emirati nationals seeking employment in the private sector through training programmes, as well as a top-up contribution scheme for those already employed in the private sector. Through this initiative, eligible Emirati nationals will receive additional financial support to bridge the gap between their current salary and their relevant target salary. To qualify for this top-up contribution, eligible Emirati nationals must be employed full-time in the private sector, earning a monthly salary of up to AED 30,000. It is also important to note that eligible Emirati nationals must not hold any shares in their respective establishments and their salaries must be paid through the Wage Protection System or any other official payment method. Furthermore, they must not receive any salary from any government entity, and they must have an active pension contribution with either the Abu Dhabi Pension Fund (ADPFBF) or the General Pension & Social Security Authority (GPSSA), with pension contributions being paid for the last two months.

Similarly, in KSA, the Ministry of Labor and Social Development (MLSD) has taken significant steps to boost the employment of Saudi nationals in the private sector through strategic initiatives aimed at empowering women to return to the workforce, train Saudi nationals so they can compete in the local market and overall create more job opportunities for Saudi nationals. Some of the initiatives include:

  • The introduction of the ‘Skills Accelerator’ programme which provides training vouchers to Saudi nationals working in the private sector so that they can further enhance their skills and raise their productivity in the workplace.
  • The introduction of the ‘Parallel Training’ programme in collaboration with renowned organisations such as Saudi universities, academies, and training establishments. This initiative was designed to provide practical training to Saudi women, equipping them with the essential skills to advance their career in the private sector.
  • The mandatory disclosure of training data to all establishments employing fifty or more employees. At the end of each calendar year, these establishments are required to disclose data and training activities, such as the number of training hours and related information, as well as the number of trainees who have completed training in categories such as employees, students, graduates, and job seekers. The disclosed training duration should not be less than eight units per trainee per year. Additionally, these establishments must disclose their training plans, data, and reports on training activities, the number of trainees, and the total budget allocated for the following year. The Ministry affirms that this resolution will contribute to an accurate analytical assessment of training indicators in the labor market.

With Saudisation and foreign investment at the forefront of Vision 2030, we have seen the authorities implement unique strategies to incentivise companies to remain in KSA. Most notably through the introduction of the Regional Headquarters (RHQ) programme which was designed to encourage companies to set up their regional operations in KSA and and in return these companies would gain an array of benefits such as:

  • Be exempt from Saudisation requirements for a period of ten years.
  • Be exempt from corporate Income and Withholding Taxes for a period of thirty years.
  • Be awarded unlimited work visa quotas for their RHQ employees.

The expansion of localisation in KSA and UAE has paved the way for other GCC countries to take similar measures and implement comparable initiatives. For example, in Qatar, the Qatar Cabinet recently approved a draft law on the nationalisation of jobs in the private sector, which aligns with the Ministry of Labour’s strategy to boost the number of Qatari nationals employed in the private sector. The proposal has been referred to the Shura Council for their approval and if approved, we can anticipate the implementation of quotas, along with the creation of jobs and training opportunities specifically aimed to benefit the employment of Qatari nationals in the private sector.

Businesses who participate in government programmes and comply with localisation rules and regulations could enhance their company profile and experience benefits such as:

  • Move to the highest category on their company license.
  • Be considered for government tenders.
  • Be a beacon for promoting a diverse and inclusive workforce, whilst also building close relationships with communities.
  • Diversify their recruitment pool and target a wider range of individuals, which does not solely rely on school and university graduates, but also individuals who have taken a career break and are now ready to rejoin the workforce.

Recruitment planning will be important for businesses looking to attract and retain local talent. HR and Global Mobility teams may need to set out the benefits to stakeholders for diversifying their workforce, as well as working with relevant business units to implement a strategy in terms of where local talent is sourced, and how talent can be nurtured to ensure long term retention.


The expansion of localisation policies within the GCC region has sparked significant transformations in the workforce dynamics, recruitment strategies, and operational frameworks of businesses. The findings underscore a mixed landscape, where the majority of businesses have been able to meet localisation quotas, albeit with increased operational costs. Yet, the overwhelming sentiment is one of positivity, with localisation initiatives driving internal programmes and fostering greater opportunities for GCC employees. Navigating these policies hasn’t been without hurdles; employers have had to adapt swiftly to evolving regulations, often facing uncertainties and tight deadlines, while some have encountered difficulties in balancing the recruitment of local talent with the need for specialised skills.

Despite these challenges, there’s a clear recognition among businesses of the necessity to align with localisation objectives. Successful organisations have demonstrated the importance of strategic planning, tailoring their approaches to meet quotas while maximising the potential of local talent. Conversely, those struggling to meet quotas have highlighted the impact on competitiveness and access to government contracts.

The UAE authorities, for example, have introduced supportive initiatives to aid businesses in targeting and retaining local talent, offering incentives such as training programmes and financial support. Participation in these programmes position businesses as advocates for diversity and inclusion, fostering closer ties with communities and expanding their recruitment pools.

As the GCC region continues to evolve, the journey towards effective localisation remains ongoing. It’s a journey marked by collaboration between businesses and authorities. In this evolving landscape, adaptability, strategic planning, and a commitment to fostering local talent will remain essential for businesses to thrive.

It is also crucial for businesses to stay alert and keep up to date with the latest rules and regulations regarding localisation. In this way, businesses can proactively prepare for the future, whilst also effectively navigating the ever-changing landscape of localisation.

Written by:

  • Anir Chatterji, Partner, EMEA Immigration –
  • Rekha Simpson, Director, Middle East Immigration –
  • Ali Ibrahim, Director, KSA and Bahrain Immigration –
  • Nasrine Abdi, Manager, Middle East Immigration –

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Tanya Jain