JEDDAH: More than 12.5 million workers in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries are foreigners, accounting for 31 percent of the 40 million GCC population, the latest official study said.
Three million foreigners are domestic workers in the six GCC member states.
The expatriate labor is not distributed in uniformly in these countries.
While 30 percent of the Saudi Arabian population is expatriate, in Bahrain it is 26 percent. Expatriates account for 80 percent of the population in the United Arab Emirates, while they constitute 27 percent in Qatar, 63 percent in Kuwait and 62 percent in Oman.
However, some other studies claim that the actual number of expatriate workers in the GCC is about 15 million, Al-Hayat daily reported yesterday.
The expatriate work force in the Gulf can be divided into Arabs and Asians. They flock from their poor native countries to the wealthy Gulf in search of employment and better living conditions. The large-scale recruitment of expatriate work force was justified by the need for executing huge development projects in the fast-growing GCC countries. Another factor was the willingness of expatriate workers to undertake hazardous jobs with lower wages that Gulf citizens refuse to do.
They started coming to the Gulf countries mostly in the 1970s, when oil companies largely depended on workers from the subcontinent. The trading, transport, fishing and security sectors also depended heavily on the expatriates. As the economies in the Gulf countries continued their growth in later decades, multinational companies that undertook extensive development of the infrastructural sector recruited labor from the cheapest sources in Asian countries.
It is also worrying that the level of Arab expatriates has been falling compared to Asians in the GCC. According to a report of the Arab Labor Organization, the number of Arab expatriate workers in the GCC plummeted from 72 percent in 1975 to 23 percent in 2008.
For instance, the report found that Egyptians and other Arab workers accounted for only 11 percent, while Indian workers dominated the work force by 52 percent followed by 10 percent Pakistanis. There are also three percent consultants and experts from Western countries.
One of the problems created by the huge presence of expatriates is the threat they pose to a country’s security. The sheer number will also take its toll on the planned utilities in these countries.
Abdullah Al-Gheilani, an Omani expert on demography, said the imbalance in the population was a security issue rather than an economic one. “The recruitment of expatriate labor and experts for developmental works is not the problem, but the real problem is to depend on the foreign work force for decades. Gulf countries excepting Saudi Arabia and Oman are unable to manage even their internal (security) matters by their national work force,” Al-Gheilani said.
He also warned against the erosion of social values and increase in crime rates because of the imbalanced presence of foreigners in a society.
The expert observed that the expatriates in GCC countries refused to integrate with the local culture, unlike the migrant communities in the United States had been doing.
He called on the Gulf countries to grapple with the unhealthy demographic situation seriously and jointly.
One of the solutions recommended by Al-Gheilani to solve the issue is to enable Arab expatriates to integrate into the GCC society, “because Arabs are less dangerous for the GCC society than any other nationality of expatriate workers.”