Visa problems for foreign workers in Iraq continue to make the headlines.
Last week we reported on the difficulties caused by a decision to channel visa applications through the office of the Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki; now we hear that the Basra Investment Commission has imposed its own restrictions, with the intention of reducing unemployment.
While the restrictions do not appear to be limited to specific sectors or levels of employment, the main game in town is clearly oil and gas, and in this area there are many foreign workers whose expertise is required in Iraq.
But when we say ‘many foreign workers’, that is relative – in the context of an unemployment rate between 15% and 39% (depending on whose figures you choose to believe), the number of foreign experts who need to enter Iraq is trivial. While the energy sector accounts for as much as 90% of Iraq’s GDP, it employs only about 1% of the workforce, and the number of non-Iraqi experts required would be a very small fraction of this 1%.
It’s also worth noting that native Iraqi oil workers are the cheapest in the world, so companies would be inclined to employ them first, if they have the required skills.
If Iraq is to thrive, it must allow companies to bring in the talent they need to development the country’s biggest asset.