End of Arabian Dream! Sharp Reduction In Demand for Pakistani, Other Workers As the Gulf States Accommodate Locals
More than a million foreign workers have been sent packing as Gulf leaders face pressure to hire more locals. But despite the region’s reputation for exploitation and rigidity, many foreigners still dream of Arabia, DW said in a report.
But faced with tighter economic conditions and political pressure to reduce the jobless rate among locals, these countries are likely to keep repatriating tens of thousands of foreigners each year, meaning the Arabian dream of millions of impoverished migrants may turn out to be just a mirage.
Several migrant-sending countries have reported lower demand for their workers, including Pakistan, as the Economic Survey 2018-19 showed a 40 per cent decline in workforce requirements from Saudi Arabia and a similar fall from the UAE — a country made up of 90 per cent immigrants.
India, too, reported a 9 per cent drop in remittances from its workers abroad in 2016, much of which was attributed to fewer jobs and lower wages in the Gulf States. The Indian state of Kerala, famous for the emigration of many of its workers, has reported a drop in those leaving.
The report says Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and Bahrain have attracted millions of the world’s most impoverished workers.
However, the promise of much higher wages than at home frequently fails to materialize. Low and unskilled migrants often end up trapped for years in their host countries, indebted, exploited and forced to work long hours in hazardous or brutally hot conditions.
As if they have not suffered enough, hundreds of thousands of migrant workers are now being cast aside following a decade of slower growth in the Gulf following the 2008/09 financial crisis and as Arab countries try to wean themselves off their reliance on foreign labour in the private sector.
It is predicted that job opportunities for migrants were likely to continue to fall because of the new regulatory hurdles as well as a slowing economy.
Saudi Arabia, for example, sent home 1.1 million foreigners over 18 months between early 2017 and late 2018 to accommodate the local unemployed youth.
Similarly, the UAE government has now identified 800,000 jobs that it says could be filled by citizens, as the unemployment rate for the local population stands at 13 per cent.
Meanwhile, a 20-year real estate boom in Dubai — probably the most famous of the UAE’s seven emirates — appears to have come to an end, leading to mass layoffs in the construction sector.
The city’s respected travel and tourism industries have suffered too, amid a contracting economy.
Immigration experts have predicted that more low-skilled workers in the hospitality, engineering and construction sectors will face the chop if the region enters recession next year, along with the rest of the world, as many economists predict.
Returning workers could pose a significant problem for sending countries like Pakistan, India and the Philippines, many of whom already struggle with high rates of unemployment and poverty.
But despite the recent exodus, the Gulf States will continue to rely on vast numbers of foreign workers to help finish their ambitious infrastructure projects. Saudi Arabia, for example, plans to build a $500 billion smart megacity close to its border with Egypt and Jordan.
And there is another problem too: a near-feudal system for employing migrant workers who are often coaxed into forced labour, according to Human Rights Watch.
Desperate circumstances at home often prompt thousands more migrants to take the plunge and move to the Gulf, despite the many stories about workers being forced to accept much lower wages than agreed and migrants deported while being owed several months of unpaid wages.
Then there’s the horrific treatment of domestic and construction workers, thousands of whom return home each year in body bags. Tens of thousands more foreigners remain trapped in Gulf countries every year when their work visas expire, petrified of being caught and with no funds to return home.
Naya Daur Media (NDM) is a bi-lingual progressive digital media platform aiming to inform and educate Pakistanis at home and abroad.