Exploring attitudes toward foreign labor through the “#السعوديين_اولي_بالوظايف”

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Exploring attitudes toward foreign labor through the “#السعوديين_اولي_بالوظايف”

Last week, the hashtag, “#السعوديين_اولي_بالوظايف,” was one of the most active topics in Saudi Twitter, with nearly 52,000 tweets written in the hashtag within a week. The hashtag translates to ‘Priority should be given to Saudis in employment.’ By quickly skimming the content in the hashtag, one can observe that individuals were frustrated that many lucrative jobs were taken by foreign workers, despite the existence of equally qualified citizens. Specifically, individuals held three groups culpable for the lack of opportunities for citizens:

1. Private firms for preferring to hire cheap foreign labor,

2. The Ministry of Human Resources and Social Development (MHRSD), as the entity that regulates how many foreign workers each company employs, and

3. Foreign labor.

To systematically explore the hashtag’s content, I analyzed nearly 52,000 tweets written between May 18th through May 26th, 2022, using basic supervised and unsupervised machine learning (ML) techniques. In this article, however, I will focus on basic unsupervised text analysis methods.

Unsupervised ML

First, I start with unsupervised ML to explore common themes in the text corpus, as seen in the graph below. For instance, one can observe that in sub-topic 3, individuals wrote mainly on jobs and unemployment. The tweets in this sub-topic represented nearly 30% of the overall written content in the hashtag. Sub-topic 2, however, mentions foreign labor and “الموارد”, which refers to the MHRSD and individuals are mentioning it in reference to the lack of job opportunities for citizens, relative to foreign employees.

Graph 1. Top sub-themes in the “#السعوديين_اولي_بالوظايف”

Next, I visualize below what words and phrases were used the most by individuals in the hashtag. The size of each word reflects its frequency in the overall text corpus. For instance, the words “الاجنبي” and “الاجانب” referring to foreign workers had nearly 5,300 mentions combined. The word “البطالة” referring to unemployment had 2,300 mentions, while the MHRSD was mentioned about 2040 times.

Graph 2. Top 20 words used in the “#السعوديين_اولي_بالوظايف”

Finally, I explore the relationship between certain words and their context in the hashtag. In table 1, I present the most frequent phrases that appear before and after the word, “foreign.” One can clearly observe that many individuals in the #السعوديين_اولي_بالوظايف were blaming MHRSD’s policies for allowing too many foreign workers into the country and for enabling a high number of foreigners to hold senior positions in the private sector. However, the ministry has been considering new policies to increase the number of citizens in senior positions in private firms. For example, AlShoura Council has proposed that 75% of leadership positions in companies should be held by citizens, but it has not been implemented yet. The last row further suggests that individuals were critical of businessowners who hire foreign workers and ‘prioritize them’ over citizens.

Table 1. Top phrases used before and after “الاجنبي” in the “#السعوديين_اولي_بالوظايف”

In table 2, I explore the common phrases that individuals use when they mention the MHRSD. This provides us an insight into the reasons why some Saudis, particularly the unemployed, are unsatisfied with the ministry’s performance. For instance, the second row shows that some individuals believe the ministry has focused primarily on nationalizing “low-status” jobs, while leaving senior and lucrative jobs for foreign workers. I believe this claim has no merit, as the ministry has been nationalizing several mid to high-skill occupations such as accounting, marketing, and engineering.

Table 2. Top phrases before and after “الموارد” in “#السعوديين_اولي_بالوظايف”

In conclusion, the basic descriptive analysis of the “#السعوديين_اولي_بالوظايف” indicates that some citizens feel that foreign labor are competing with them over the same employment opportunities and that some foreign workers with are deliberately not hiring Saudis. The hashtag also shows that many individuals are either unsatisfied or unaware of the ministry’s efforts to increase private sector nationalization and reduce unemployment amongst citizens. This is because several individuals liked tweets that lack real evidence such as claiming that the ministry is, “only nationalizing low-status jobs,” which is inaccurate. As a result, I think the ministry may consider raising public awareness to familiarize individuals about its policy initiatives, accomplishments, and how it has been addressing unemployment in recent years.