What about Dubai's other expat population?

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By now, most everyone is familiar with Dubai's economic woes. The emirate's ongoing economic malaise has had a dramatic effect on the its Western expat population, who are leaving en masse. Fear of debtor's prison has led many to abandon their cars at the airport and catch a one-way flight home, while others have covertly escaped on rafts.

Yet roughly 85 percent of Dubai's expatriate population hails from South Asia. How are these migrants faring?

Not so well, according to the World Bank's Dilip Ratha, who says that, in spite of reduced employment opportunities, many have little choice but to stay in Dubai and wait out the worst:

Many migrant workers, from Bangladesh in particular, are somewhat stuck in Dubai because they cannot afford to return. It costs about 12,000 dirhams to pay recruitment agencies and travel costs. At a monthly income below 900 dirhams – no overtime these days – a construction worker can easily take three years to save enough to repay recruitment costs. Too bad there is a crisis – they just can’t risk returning home. So many are entering into creative arrangements (e.g., taking unpaid leave) with employers to simply wait it out in Dubai.

To make matters worse, life in Dubai is becoming more expensive, driven by rising food costs. This only complicates the situation:

Many workers mentioned that living costs – especially the price of rice, a staple for many migrants – has more than doubled in the last two years. Earlier, a construction worker spent roughly 150 dirhams a month, now he is spending between 350 and 400 dirhams. That has reduced remittances. Also, that is bound to increase the time it takes a migrant to pay back recruitment fees.

As remittances grow scarcer, migrants have even more motivation to utilize tools such as the World Bank's remittance price data, where they can compare the cost of various remittance companies and corridors.

If the economic climate in Dubai goes from bad to worse, migrants are going to need to make every dollar (or dirham) count.

(Photo credit: New York Times)

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