Home » Expat Focus International News Update February 2023

Expat Focus International News Update February 2023

Saudi Arabia attracts expats to the country

The Middle Eastern state is seeing an increasing number of expats flocking into the country after relaxing its visa requirements, international agency Deloitte told Al Arabiya News in late January. Relocation consultant Rached Bejjani told the press: “There are a lot more expats coming into the country … these past four or five months, it’s been crazy.” As we reported last year, it’s not just the visa regulations which have seen a revision, but also a change in social rules, making the Kingdom a more appealing destination for expats who may not wish to adhere to strict Islamic codes of conduct. Although you still can’t drink alcohol in public, the Kingdomis becoming (comparatively) less conservative about women and men mixing in public for example.

The Saudi General Organization for Social Insurance (GOSI) reports that in the third quarter of 2022 there was a substantial rise in the number of expats applying for the country’s compulsory social insurance scheme, rising to 1,183,577 million people from 198,803 in the second quarter.  

Part of this is due to the stipulation in 2021 that businesses must establish regional HQs in the country if they want to work on government contracts; Deloitte is one of the companies who have now established a Saudi base, but it is joined by more than 40 others, including Siemens and Unilever. But new labour laws make it easier to switch companies as an employee: you now don’t need to have your employer’s permission to change jobs, nor do you need it in order to go in and out of the country. Saudi now has a new, 90-day, temporary work visa, and some passport holders (as tourists) are now allowed to apply for visa-on-arrival.

Exodus of teachers from Hong Kong

The South China Morning Post reports that over 4000 teachers left Hong Kong last year, withdrawing more than HK$10 billion from their provident fund in the process, with an additional 399 staff leaving tertiary education, which has left the city state’s schools and universities with a serious headache. Educational expert Benson Wong Wai-kwok commented:

“…the implementation of the National Security Law, the confrontation between Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and Western countries, the deterioration of academic freedom in Hong Kong, and strict anti-pandemic policies, are keys factors driving the scholars to leave.”

He added that performance criteria for research grants affecting some universities was also a factor, and noted that the city state is generally becoming less appealing to expat educationalists (Covid lockdowns will not have helped). He goes on to say:

“It is highly probable that Taiwan may soon replace Hong Kong and become the new base for studying China and Asian countries within East Asia. By then, Hong Kong cannot avoid the reality of seeing its decline in such academic prestige.”

Singapore: rents reach 15-year high in December 2022

At the end of 2022 in Singapore, rents in the district of Seletar saw the steepest rise of 33% with the rest of the city  not far behind. Some Chinese citizens have reported that they’re returning home as they can no longer afford to live in the city, and a Filipino resident told the press that more than 50% of his salary now goes on rental costs. One Japanese tenant noted to Channel News Asia that his landlord wanted to raise the rent from $1,600 to $2,800, a hike of around 75%. Forced to move, he ended up paying 50% more.

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Higher demand for accommodation in the city has caused rental prices to increase. This demand has been caused in part from delays in construction projects resulting from Covid, and from expats coming back to the city-state and needing properties, perhaps in part as a result of the exodus from Hong Kong, although as we have reported previously, experts are divided as to the extent of this and also on its actual impact.

Around 17,000 condo units are expected to be completed this year, which will ease demand to some degree, but with rises in interest rates and property tax on the way, property experts say that rents are unlikely to fall in the near future, although they are looking at a slower rate of increase.

British expats report ‘onerous’ bureaucracy in the wake of Brexit

Brits living in Italy and Spain have reported difficulties in applying for their new visas after Brexit, the Daily Express reported in January. A resident in Italy told The Local that “We have to provide evidence of income and assets, to meet a threshold that does not seem to be actually documented anywhere.” This complaint was echoed by another British expat in Spain, who says: “The experience was maddening. We spoke to a few lawyers and each one was telling us something different about the paperwork we had to submit, different from what’s listed on the Spanish government website.”

However, there is some good news in the ongoing driving licence saga in Spain: The British Ambassador, Hugh Elliott, has told everyone to look out for an upcoming announcement giving the date when you will be able to swap your UK licence for a Spanish one. The date will be publicised in the next few weeks, apparently. Elliott says:

“I can’t claim that I am as keen to get this through as those who have been unable to drive while negotiations because I haven’t been affected by this in the same way as them but I am super keen to get over the line, in force, and to allow Brits to drive again.”

Netherlands seeks to solve Amsterdam housing shortage

A new initiative has been set up in the Netherlands to address Amsterdam’s housing crisis: Amsterdamse Aanpak Volkshuisvesting (“Amsterdam Approach to Public Housing”), or AAV is now in place. Housing will be built with the city’s ageing population in mind, in the hope that older residents will move into smaller, specifically built properties. This may not benefit expats, however, as the authorities say that new accommodation will be aimed at families, the vulnerable (such as the elderly) and lower income residents rather than expats and international students.

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