Over 120,000 workers left Uganda in search of jobs in just two years 

The number of youth seeking labour, especially in the Middle East, has been growing peaking to an average of 60,229 annually. Photo / File 

What you need to know:

  • An average of 60,229 migrant workers left for the Middle East in search of jobs in each of the two years to 2023

At least 120,459 workers left Uganda between January 2022 and December 2023 in search of employment, according to data from the Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development. 

The report titled Labour Externalisation Statistics for the Period 2022 to 2024, however, only captures migrant workers cleared through the External Employment Management Information System. 

It indicates that women dominated the search for employment out of Uganda, forming 77.5 percent or 109,773 compared to  10,686 males. 

Middle East, just like in the last 10 years, remained the destination of choice with at least 89.1 percent or 107,448 out of the 120,459 workers leaving Uganda for Saudi Arabia.

The report, however, does not explain the high number of travellers to Saudi Arabia, but this could be due to the existence of a bilateral labour externalisation agreement between Uganda and the Middle Eastern country. Uganda has a similar agreement with Jordan. 

During 2023, the report, however, that the number of migrant workers dropped sharply due to delayed renewal of the bilateral agreement with Saudi Arabia. 

“The agreement with Saudi Arabia had expired in 2022 and the process of renewing took long. However, the agreement was renewed in March 2023. 

During this period recruitment agencies lost job orders thus the decline,” Ms  Ritah Nakonde a labour officer at the Ministry of Gender, said yesterday.

The report further indicates that Qatar followed Saudi Arabia as the destination of choice, taking in at least 6,086 Ugandans, which translated into 5.05 percent in the two years.  

Others left for the United Arab Emirates (4,457), Somalia (1,108), Iraq (1,081), Kuwait (262) and Bahrain (six). 

However, there were no travellers recorded to Afghanistan and Jordan, even as the two have been taking in some numbers over the years.  

Outside of the Middle East, seven and four Ugandans travelled to Europe, particularly to Poland and Romania, respectively.  

However, the report does not capture other Ugandans, many of whom have lately travelled to Canada, US, UK and other Europe, in search of labour.  Ugandans have traditionally travelled to Europe and the Americas in search of jobs. 

Labour externalisation remains one of Uganda’s main sources of employment and foreign exchange, which has helped the government to free itself from pressure, resulting from high youth unemployment, many of whom, even after completing school, fail to get jobs.   

The report does not, however, capture the education levels or age groups of those who travelled in the two years or before that. 

Reports have previously claimed that many migrant workers are educated youth, who out of frustration, travel to foreign countries in search of jobs, especially to the Middle East. 

The report notes that the majority of migrant workers are employed in casual jobs, among which include housemaids or helps, security guards, cleaners, drivers, waiters and waitresses. 

Main jobs of migrant workers

House helps dominate the list of jobs offered to Ugandan migrant workers, followed by cleaners, general helpers, merchandisers and supermarket attendants.

The report indicates that there are at least 220,000 migrant Ugandan workers currently employed - on new and running contracts - in the Middle East as house helps, about 30,000 security guards and more than 10,000 drivers.

However, the report does not indicate how many Ugandan migrant workers are currently stationed in the Middle East. 

The 120,459 workers who left Uganda between 2022 and 2023 is an average of 60,229 in the two years, which is a significant growth from the average of 24,086 who left the country annually in the six years to 2022 and 12,000 workers before that.