Next week on 1st June, will be the 1st anniversary of the most recent change to visa laws for expatriates working in the Sultanate. I'm sure you all know, but here's the current situation in a nutshell:
You can't change your job in Oman to a different employer unless you get a No Objection Certificate (NOC). The problem is, if your employer gives you a NOC, the Ministry of Manpower will then not allow your current employer to get a new clearance to replace you with another expatriate employee. Basically, find an Omani to do your job, and then your employer might give you a NOC. The only other way to change your job (to a different employer) is to leave Oman for 2 years, and then return.
There are some companies out there that have given NOC's. There are a lot more that wont. I can even think of one particular situation where a company agreed to give someone a NOC, they changed jobs, and then they refused to give that person a NOC, creating all sorts of drama for them.
Now, I totally get why this rule was brought in. It costs a lot to bring an expatriate worker to the country and set them up with visa's etc and the rest. So you could imagine an employers frustration when after 6 months, an employee would hand in their notice and switch to a competing company for presumably an increase in pay or better working conditions.
The problem with this rule is really quite simple: It doesn't consider those of us who have fulfilled our contractual requirements. Take me for example - I've been here 8 years, I worked for 4 years with one company, and then moved to a competing company. The move was good for me, I got a payrise, increase in leave allowance and career-wise, I got to work on some pretty great projects. Let's say that now after 4 years with that company, I've gained more experience and expertise and want to look for a new job. Not the same job, a new position, higher up the ladder.
I have no choice but to look for opportunities outside of Oman, and take my 8 years of local market experience with me. My employer would be nuts to give me a NOC - they're under no obligation to, and why would they then shoot themselves in the foot because they wouldn't be able to get a clearance to replace me with another expat.
Now, is this 2 year visa ban rule really in the best interest's of the country and its economy? Obviously I'm bias and I don't think it is. I've fulfilled my 2 year contractual requirements with my employer, and am now on an understanding of just giving 2 months notice and I can leave, or they can let me go. I'm not saying I currently want to change jobs, I'm just saying that in my particular circumstance, as an experienced expat employee in what I do, I've got no option but to look for future work outside of Oman, and to take my experience with me. This ruling makes me choose to stay in Oman in a job that I might not want to do for ever, or might not like should my employer change my working conditions - or to leave Oman to go and work somewhere else. Wasn't the point of this ruling to make expats honour their contractual commitments with their employers - or was it to make us unable to develop personally in our own careers in the local market?
It might be that this is an intended effect of this ruling, to bring down expats in general living and working in Oman, but given that Omanisation is no where near where I think Oman would like it to be, perhaps this is a little bit premature?
This rule, in it's current form virtually guarantees an expat labour brain drain from Oman over time. In fact, for those expats who stay in the same job (unless they are a GM or similar, and already at the top) for years and years - they will stagnate over time, it's just inevitable - and still they won't be the best assets for helping Oman develop. The question that needs to be asked is: Is this good for the economy of Oman?