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Beyond Remittances: How 11 Million Migrants from the Arab World can Impact Development

Mariem Mezghenni Malouche's picture
Arne Hoel l World Bank

The Middle East and North Africa region has a large diaspora. According to the latest United Nations estimates, 11 million citizens from the MENA countries lived abroad in 2013. Many of the members of this group hold prominent positions in their adopted countries. They have the potential to contribute to the development of industries in their countries of origin. Executives in multinationals can influence the choice of locations abroad in increasingly defragmented supply-chains. This is especially relevant for members of the diaspora.  Seddik Belyamani, originally from Morocco, was Boeing's top airplane salesman, and was instrumental in converting an initial push-back by Boeing’s executives into an interest and a first mover investment in Morocco. 

Where Will the Jobs Come from in the Middle East and North Africa? (Hint: You need start-ups)

Marc Schiffbauer's picture


A former hotel owner in one of the region’s major cities, who wants to remain anonymous, tells a story that should have had a happy ending. Her 40-room hotel was doing well. It had built a reputation for excellent service. She decided to capitalize on her success and expand the business by adding a restaurant. This would have provided her with another revenue steam and allowed her to attract more customers, especially foreign tourists. Apart from expanding her business, the need for new kitchen and wait staff would have meant jobs for the local community. It would also have meant more business for local suppliers of everything from food to tablecloths.

With such a long list of potential benefits, who would want to stand in the way?

What Smart(er) Politicians Do With Subsidies: Jobs

Heba Elgazzar's picture


What makes smart politicians?  Jeffrey Frankel has an idea.   His recent blog examines the allure, and trap, of universal subsidies.   For one thing, they know that pulling the plug on bad policies should be done sooner rather than later.  The same can be said of other policies related to investment and labor legislation.  Economic democracy is a great thing.  However, beware of misguided routes to achieving it. 

Remittances from Qatar: Less-informed Families Receive Less

Robertas Zubrickas's picture

Doha Skyline from the museum of Islamic art | flickr@jikatu/8041248308

Over the past decade, there has been an almost exponential rise in international remittances. We from recent research that remittances are critical for the well-being of individual households in developing countries – helping them to emerge from poverty, send their children to school, and invest in small enterprises, health, education and housing. Yet not much is known about determinants of remittance flows within transnational households (those with one or more members working abroad), an increasingly important topic for policy makers with the sums involved.

ARAIEQ: Working Together to Improve Education Quality in the MENA Region

Simon Thacker's picture


In Tunis this month, the Arab Regional Agenda for Improving Education Quality (ARAIEQ) held its second annual meetings of representatives from institutions from across the region. The idea for this network is simple enough: Arab countries face a now well-recognized challenge—the need to improve the quality and relevance of their education systems. It therefore stands to reason that they should share solutions. They met to review the progress made in the past year and discuss how to work more closely together in the future. What have they accomplished?

Education Attainment: Another Middle East and North Africa Success Story

Farrukh Iqbal's picture
A classroom in Yemen
Education stock (measured as average years of schooling completed by adults of age 15 and above as compiled by Barro and Lee, 2013) has increased steadily in each region of the world over the past forty years.

The Global Environment Facility and its Multiple Impacts

Suiko Yoshijima's picture
 © Dana Smillie / World Bank

The Global Environment Facility (GEF) is an independent funding mechanism with its own review and approval process.  It partners with a number of institutions, including the World Bank, to prepare, supervise and implement its grants to developing countries.

How can public procurement improve business opportunities for MENA SMEs?

Rachel Lipson's picture


Small and medium-size enterprises (SMEs) are becoming more of a priority for policymakers in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). Seen as the driving force of many MENA economies, they help stimulate economic growth and encourage innovation and competition. They also play a huge role in creating more jobs in countries where these are urgently needed.

Employment and Fertility in the Middle East and North Africa: Mothers to the Rescue?

Farrukh Iqbal's picture
 Arne Hoel

New entrants to the working age population in most Middle East and North Africa countries encounter economic structures and policies that have long failed to generate an adequate number of new jobs. In recent years, about 5 million people per year have reached working age but only 3 million of them have found jobs. Unfortunately, ongoing political turmoil and associated economic conditions and policies suggest that the jobs challenge will continue to fester for years to come.  However, help may be on the way from a “curiously unnoticed” source: falling fertility rates.   

Kafala neither guarantees nor cares: guest workers in the Gulf

Zahid Hussain's picture

Thomas Sennett / World Bank
Guest workers have played an integral role in the Gulf since the 1970s where the demographic changes accompanying these labor flows occurred at an extraordinarily rapid pace. The region’s aggregate population has increased more than tenfold in a little over half a century, but in no other region of the world do citizens comprise such a small proportion of the population. While this ‘demographic imbalance’ makes the Gulf unique, what differentiates it is not its economic and demographic expansion through migration but the degree to which the region’s governments have excluded foreign workers from being integrated into the national polity. This exclusion of foreign workers is a result of a conscious policy.
 
Labor migration to Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries are mostly governed under a sponsorship system known as Kafala.  Migrant workers require a national sponsor (called Kafeel) and are only allowed to work for the visa sponsoring firm. The workers must obtain a no-objection certificate from the sponsor to resign and have to leave the country upon termination of the usual 2 to 3 years’ contract before being allowed to commence a new contract under a new sponsor. Tied to the sponsor, the migrants become immobile within the internal labor market for the duration of the contract. Consequently the sponsors benefit from non-competitive environments where they extract substantial economic rents from migrant workers at the expense of inducing significant inefficiencies in production.
 
The Kafeels pay workers an income above the wage in their country of origin and obtain economic rents equal to the difference between such earnings and the net marginal return from employing the migrant worker. Migrant workers are paid the initial nominal wage throughout the entire contractual period. They are even made to accept lower wages than contracted initially. Immobilized by labor restrictions, workers cannot command a higher wage even when there is demand for their services by rival firms willing to hire them in order to avoid the cost of hiring from abroad.  Kafeels have also found other ways of extracting rents in recent decades by indulging in visa trading.  They allow their names to be used to sponsor foreign workers in exchange for monetary gains.
 
Arguably, rents per-se should not directly create adverse effects because they are essentially redistributive transfers. Earnings paid to migrants are sufficient to motivate them to migrate. The migrants do not leave. But this view is over-simplistic. The combination of short contracts, flat wages, and lack of internal mobility kills the incentives for migrant workers to exercise higher effort levels in production and engage in activities that enhance their human capital.  Any productivity gain would go to the sponsor in the form of rents. The system provides incentives to entrepreneurs to concentrate on low-skills, labor-intensive activities where the extraction of economic rents is easier. Such sponsor-worker behavior explains for instance why despite the massive investments in Dubai, the economy-wide efficiency levels (average labor productivity) have not improved in the last two decades while in Hong Kong, they doubled and in Singapore quadrupled.


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