ISLAMABAD - Saudi Arabia launched a skill verification programme in Pakistan, with the South Asia nation becoming the first beneficiary of Riyadh’s new scheme for skilled workers.

Under the newly launched programme, a dozen examination centers will conduct written and practical tests of skilled workers in Pakistan before they could apply for a Saudi work visa. Saudi Arabia is home to more than 2.5 million Pakistani expatriates and one of the biggest sources of remittances to Pakistan. Saad Aiaqil, director-general of the Saudi skill verification program, said Pakistan was the first country to utilize the skilled workers’ scheme. “We have a very strong strategic relationship with Pakistan and have selected it as the first country to start this program,” he said in an interview with Arab News. The initiative is aimed at ensuring skilled workforce comes to the kingdom, Aiaqil said.

“In the first phase we have selected five occupations for the program and these five have further 160 smaller categories for the workers,” he added. In 2020, Saudi Arabia announced new plans to ease foreign workers’ contractual restrictions, abolishing a seven-decade-old sponsorship system known as kafala. The plans, which took effect in March 2021, aim to make the Saudi labour market more attractive by granting foreign workers the right to change jobs and leave the country without employers’ permission. Saudi Arabia is seeking to boost its private sector, part of an ambitious plan to diversify its oil-dependent economy. The country’s Vision 2030 reform plan is a package of economic and social policies designed to free the kingdom from reliance on oil exports.