Comprehensive Labour Migration policy in GCC countries needed by both Sending and receiving countries

Author:   K. Ranju

Comprehensive Labour Migration Policy in GCC Countries needed by both Sending and Receiving countries


GCC countries, the largest recipients of labour migrants in the world, is a region of extreme mobility, both voluntary and forced. Mass Migration to GCC countries started in the '60s, following the Camel-to-Cadillac phase. A fresh exploration of oil reserves brought incredible riches to Gulf states, making them change their ride from camels to luxury cars. Since the beginning of this oil era, GCC countries had been powerful magnets for international migrations. Migrants have converged on these Gulf countries, not only bringing their skills but also their social, gender, cultural, religious and political identities.  GCC monarchies have cultivated, what they termed as,  Gulf Model of Migration, the very being of it is anchored in the paradigm of 'temporary labour import’ preventing family reunification and naturalization, limiting socio-economic rights and advocation strongly of Sponsorship rights. The kafala system, an institution that has long been denounced as the leading cause of migrant abuse and exploitation creating un-free labour has always been advocated by the petro-monarchies as an institution that guarantees them protection from the disproportionate migrants' workforce. In short, it is an improvised constitutional set of Modern Slavery system exercised through a cohesive set of policies aiming at differentiating and alienating migrants.


The petrodollar driven oil wealth, disproportionate local population, relatively high labour compensations are the driving forces for the migrants to flood in these countries. Huge wealth reserves had paved the way for ambitious development projects. These regional factors are reasons enough to trust as a safe heaven for Migrants. A clear dominance of the local labour market by the Migrants is a clear sign of their contributions to their destination countries. Limited duration of employment, restricted human rights, employee-oriented liberal entry procedures, poorly monitored labour recruitment agencies in both sending and destination countries had created a big vacuum of a balanced life. Based on the GCC countries' vision documents and the prevailing economic and labour market trends, the migration governance frameworks in the GCC region in the short- term are expected to evolve in the following areas: the imposition of skill certification requirements on migrants by countries of destination and deepening of linkages between skills training and testing centres and the overseas placement agencies in countries of origin. This paper examines the significant implications these changes may have on the migration flows and the nature of migrants' work in the Asia-GCC migration corridor.


Facts and figures

  • In 2019, according to the Population Division of the United Nations Department of Economic Affairs (UNDESA), there were 35 million international migrants in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries, and Jordan and Lebanon, of whom 31 per cent were women.
  • The ILO estimated that in 2017 the Arab States hosted 23 million migrant workers, with 9 million (39 per cent) women migrant workers. The majority of these workers are from Asia, with a sizeable number also coming from Africa, especially Egypt, and increasingly from East Africa (Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda).
  • Migrants in the six GCC States account for over 10 per cent of all migrants globally, while Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates host respectively the third and fifth largest migrant populations in the world.
  • Foreign nationals make up the majority of the population in Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates (and more than 80 per cent of the population in Qatar and the United Arab Emirates).
  • The proportion of non-nationals in the employed population in GCC countries is among the highest in the world, with an average of 70.4 per cent, ranging from 56 to 93 per cent for individual countries. Migrants in the Arab States remitted over USD 124 billion in 2017, with the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia ranking second and third globally in terms of remittance outflow (after the United States), and Kuwait and Qatar ranking eighth and tenth respectively.


If Migration is to be believed by choice, and the choice is a context by the condition of poverty and unemployment, then, it the responsibility of both the sending and destination countries to safeguard the rights of migrants as human and not to push them into even deeper poverty. Inadequate healthcare, poor economic conditions, and over-crowded living conditions make migrants more vulnerable, making them more likely to become infected. The majority of cases in the Gulf of COVID-19 are foreign migrants. For 2020, the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) economies have declined by 5.7%, while the GCC has decreased by 7.6%. This means massive joblessness, unpaid salaries through inappropriate businesses or salary robbery, arbitrary arrests or deportations, and a growing need for supplies for food. Many are stranded because of travel prohibitions or inexpensive tickets.

GCC's relations with migrant workers are interdependent if uniform. Without migrant workers, GCC economies would be paralyzed. More than 88% of the private sector is dominated by the migrant workforce in the UAE and Qatar, and 80% is in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait or higher. Economic demand, especially for staples and essential services, is also generated by foreign workers. The high-end, high-tech economies of those countries would be crippled by significant departures by higher wage expatriates while significantly affecting high-end demand for goods and services. Although national and technology employment policies are encouraged, these economies will be critical for many long years, whether they be foreign workers, the low wages or otherwise. The working conditions will remain shameful unless changes are made.

The economic recuperation of the GCC will accelerate quickly after the pandemic, thus accelerating demand for foreign workers. It’s the need of the situation that both sending countries and destination countries should develop a comprehensive Labour Migration policy. The pandemic might have, to an extent, helped to bring the south-east Asian and GCC migration corridor within the context of ILO and other international conventions. With the emergence of nationalization in GCC countries and a strong wave of anti-migrant among the younger talents is a matter of concern. In terms of strategy, every GCC country has taken measures to reduce and protect people living in its territory by coronavirus; however, there is still a need for a more protective approach on the specific matter of non-nationals in the many Gulf States. 

K. Ranju is an independent Researcher, founder of Exodus Research, and a Human Resource Professional based in Qatar for over a decade. He had been actively involved with Labour Migration issues of SE Asian Migrants. He can be reached on Twitter @kranjur

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