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Foreign worker remittances from Saudi Arabia soaring

Remittances from Saudi Arabia’s estimated nine million mostly Asian foreign workers are soaring as the kingdom recruits more of them for its massive development plan, an economist said Saturday. At $18.4 billion last year and $15.0 billion in the first eight months of 2009, earnings sent abroad now equalled four percent of Saudi gross domestic product, John Sfakianakis of Banque Saudi Fransi said, citing government data.

Remittances in the January-August 2009 period jumped 12 percent compared with 2008, according to central bank statistics. That was a slowdown from the 26.7 percent pace of 2008 versus 2007, but remarkably strong considering the global economic slowdown, according to Sfakianakis.

“That’s a huge number,” he said of the total amount sent out by millions of the mostly Asian and Middle Eastern workers.

The reason was more the continued Saudi recruitment of laborers to build the Saudi government’s huge slate of infrastructure projects – new roads, rails, ports, airports, and cities – that amount to about $400 billion in the five years to 2012.

“It is more due to the growth in the expatriate force rather than the rise in salaries,” Sfakianakis told AFP.

But, he added, “For any economy it is a concern, if you have four percent of GDP going out.”

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