In Egypt, inflation has hit an all-time high of nearly 40%, and the average worker’s wages are dropping. Although prices are increasing for everyone, not all families have the same financial buffer against this storm.
But the worst is still to come.
The average cost of living for a single person is estimated to be $342 per month, excluding rent. The average salary ranges from $77 to $1,355 per month, and what doesn’t help is that most organizations are not paying their employees enough to keep up with the devaluation of the Egyptian pound.
As the Egyptian economy deteriorates and the country’s plight is worsened by debt, many Egyptians struggle to make ends meet and are increasingly seeking jobs that pay in foreign currency, especially US dollars.
Recruiter, headhunter, and HR professional Deena El Dakrouri says that currency and economic instability have forced recruiters to approach scouting differently as salary expectations have skyrocketed.
“It’s become harder to offer jobs that pay in Egyptian pounds to Egyptian employees, particularly those working in the tech sector,” adds El Dakrouri. “They want to get paid in dollars, even if it’s just the equivalent of an Egyptian pound salary because at least that means their pay increases when inflation hits.”
Twenty-six-year-old Moustafa Waly says he prefers to get paid in dollars because it is simply “a safer bet” to get paid in a strong foreign currency just in case of another currency devaluation.
Getting paid in dollars allows him to safeguard most of his salary, rather than asking for a raise every quarter because of another devaluation of the Egyptian pound, which would drop him down a socioeconomic rank.
Nihal Mostafa, 30, also prefers jobs that pay in US dollars as the cost of living keeps rising. “To hold the currency’s value, save money, and pay my bills, I need to get paid in US dollars.”
FOREIGN CURRENCY TRUMPS EVERYTHING ELSE
Clearly, getting paid in a foreign currency is an Egyptian worker’s top priority, even if it means sacrificing other important factors.
“Given that a foreign employer, most likely, isn’t registered here, it is almost a certainty that I do not get or will not get insurance — social, health — but that is fine given that they offer at least double the salary I get here, and sometimes more,” says Waly.
Remote work is next on the priorities list; Mostafa says flexible hours and vacation pay, benefits package, working hours, and company stability come after salary in USD.
Dakrouri highlights stability as something that most Egyptian employees look for, indicative of today’s economic climate.
“Stability is one of the main things employees look for, something I never would’ve thought would be a priority ten years ago. Employees are concerned with whether a company will close down.”
She says company culture has also become a major factor to consider, with some employees willing to leave larger, more established organizations to join startups for what they perceive to be a healthier work environment.
THE WARNING SIGNS
While Egypt’s economic crisis has only come to a head in the last year, the warning signs have been there for over a decade.
Since the fall of Hosni Mubarak in 2011, Egypt has experienced a drastic decline in foreign investment and tourism revenue.
President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has often blamed the country’s economic struggles on turmoil following the 2011 uprising, rapid population growth, and external shocks such as the COVID-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine.
However, economists point to government policies such as defending the Egyptian pound at a high cost, relying on foreign investments that can easily fluctuate, and not making necessary economic changes.
Waly says he has long known that local companies would not be able to pay him fairly for his work. “During my third year in the job, I started looking for remote jobs abroad.”
He says his friends now have reconsidered what they look for in job offers. “Most of them are now actively looking for any job abroad that pays in foreign currency because companies here seem unwilling or unable to compensate us fairly.”
“With the average salary, it would take a long time before you can buy a car or a house,” he adds.
Dakrouri shares a similar sentiment, saying that companies cannot keep up with the country’s currency devaluation and compensate their employees properly, as it takes too much of a toll on their budget.
“Being paid in US dollars is expected because employees can ensure that the salary package increases with currency devaluations and inflation, not vice versa.”
IT’S EASIER FOR CERTAIN SECTORS
One’s ability to get paid in foreign currency greatly depends on the work sector. Tech and digital jobs top the list of most in-demand jobs in Egypt, having taken the top spot twice in the past ten years.
“I clarify that they must compensate me fairly according to my current salary. That helps me weed out bad recruiters and ones that haven’t done their market research,” says Waly, a Magento Developer, adding that getting paid in US dollars is highly dependent on one’s career track.
On the other hand, Mostafa, who works in the marketing and journalism industry, has difficulty finding jobs that pay a decent wage. “Jobs are available, but the salaries are low because the field is saturated.”
According to Dakrouri, software developers, backend engineers/developers, and backend testers will most likely be paid in US dollars.
“Multinational companies are paying salaries in US dollars to gain an edge over competitors,” she says. “Tech sector employees don’t even need to go abroad; they get offers to work remotely and get paid in US dollars.”
Dakrouri reveals that tech employees expect salaries of at least $1,000 per month, with more experienced employees earning up to $6,000 monthly.
In the past, employees typically sought a 10% salary increase, but now they expect 35% or even as much as 50%.
Egypt’s workforce is predicted to increase from under 600,000 a year in 2020-2025 to 800,000 a year from 2025 to 2035, according to a study by Ragui Assaad, Egyptian Professor of Planning and Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota.
As employees continue to look for ways to protect their earnings due to uncertain economic conditions, the trend of seeking US dollar salaries will likely continue in the coming years. And this has a number of implications for the country. On the one hand, it can help attract and retain top talent, boosting economic growth. But it can also lead to a brain drain, as skilled workers leave the country to find jobs with higher salaries and better economic stability.
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