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Migration in the Gulf: Balancing cultural and economic needs

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The six Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries are experiencing an economic boom due to high oil prices. These countries also have some of the highest immigration rates in the world.  According to this Economist article, these governments are becoming increasingly anxious at the erosion of their national cultures.

The article points out several policy options that Gulf countries have tried or are considering to manage or limit the immigration of foreign workers, such as ethnic/country quotas, changing building codes to encourage more automation, encouraging students from other Arab countries to take up service-sector jobs, a proposal to limit to 5-6 years the total amount of time spent in the six countries, etc.

The ensuing protests from employers have led some governments to possibly embrace giving migrant workers minimum wages, formalizing the recruitment process and reducing reliance on employers for visas (who have sometimes exploited the workers in the past). 

One thing that seems clear to me is that restrictive measures (e.g. banning workers from certain countries) usually don’t work.  In fact, some options have already been dropped since the labor needs of the growing economies of these countries are too great to ignore.


Sanket Mohapatra

Associate Professor, IIM Ahmedabad

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