The United Arab Emirates’ population and demographic dynamics have demonstrated complex connections among vague concepts of citizenship and identity. In 2014, a workshop was organized to examine demography in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states under the Chatham House Rile. Speakers from Gulf and Europe addressed demographic issues that have been shifting in the GCC states. The speakers drawn from various socioeconomic sectors addressed demographic issues. For example, they discussed challenges arising from shifting demographic dynamics. Citizens’ perceptions, emotions, and reality about the demographic imbalance in the GCC states were also discussed. Consequently, the roles of sponsorship as a demographic policy, business actors, politics, interaction of labor, and non-nationals in the GCC states were also examined (Ingo, & Jane, 2011). This report will address issues of UAE’s demographics. It will focus on the demographics characteristics and the arising problems and how they affect the GCC states. Consequently, it will discuss some solutions to the problems. The target audience will, therefore, be the GCC states annual summit.
Recently, the demographic imbalance within the GCC states has been a value-laden frame of reference that has been expanding and attracting populations’ attention. For example, recent developments across the six GCC states have been demonstrating that demography, identity, citizenship, and labor markets have complex connections. More so, a large-scale deportation of expatriate workers has been underway. This has resulted in an increase of nationals in labor markets. Consequently, issues addressing identity and security demographics in the region have been rising increasingly especially among decision and policy makers as well as the public at large. Other issues include labor market inefficiencies, common political security challenges, and socio-cultural threats affecting national populations (Ingo, & Jane, 2010).
Characteristics of UAE demography Imbalance
The migration pattern across GCC states; constituting the most pronounced and visible peculiar traits, is often described as unique. The pattern has, therefore, set the region apart from other regional and national policies. Researchers addressing the various aspects of the demographic debate in the GCC states state that limited information on the issue is available in comparison to international standards. The statistics on demographic imbalance are fragmentary and scattered across multiple and overlapping sources with significant gaps. For example, information on the number of present illegal immigrants and the safety-nets sustaining them has been missing. More so, undocumented migrants in UAE have developed insurance and education systems. It is vital to connect the various perspectives on demographic imbalance and migration by addressing social, legal, labor, economic, and cultural aspects and how they interact or overlap. Patterns of change among states sending and receiving laborers should also be assessed before setting developments within the context of historical migration trends to the GCC states (CIRS, 2015).
According to a report published by the Middle East Centre, three factors make statistics on demography in the GCC states unreliable. The first factor involves lack of public accountability and collaboration either within or among various regional and national institutions and government ministries tasked with collecting the information. The cultural of secrecy has been surrounding the actual figures collected through census returns. This factor has also been influencing internal surveys conducted by public agencies. The last factor involves the shortfall in reliable data on legacy migrants including Hajj who are considered to overstay in Saudi Arabia. Data on illegal migrants along borders in Oman that are described as largely uncontrolled is also unreliable (MEC, 2014).
After the boundaries created between the nations in the 60s and 70s, no plans were put in place to register migrants who were already in the countries –and most of them remain undocumented to date. Migrants have not been registered after national boundaries were fixed in the 1960s and 1970s as they are poorly documented. These factors affirm that lack of institutional cooperation on aspects of population strategy and management in the GCC states is a weakness. They also confirm that consistent policy objectives among various ministries and agencies lack across the GCC states. As a result, different institutions within GCC states face the problem of implementing rules addressing labor nationalization as they require cross-government policy coordination. For example, the Nitaqat system in Saudi Arabia has been encountering a challenge in aligning the interests of political and business actors. It has also been facing auditing challenges due to presence of a large number of undocumented migrants (MEC, 2014).
The demographic imbalance is, therefore, an issue that influences emotions among populates across the GCC states. Sensitivities often run high during discussions on demographic imbalance and challenges mainly due to political influence and poor media coverage. The region is globally recognized for limiting freedom of expression. Thus, people and the media are not obliged to open up and discuss demographic imbalance, especially across official platforms. Consequently, they do not openly provide actual statistics and data on migration patterns across the region. This, however, triggers citizens’ anxiety about migration levels (MEC, 2014).
For example, they feel that the growing employment opportunities and associated opportunities benefit mainly the migrants. They are also afraid that the national identity and cultural values are at risk because of high rate of population growth which has almost doubled in regions such as Bahrain and Qatar due to massive inward migration. Similar concerns have also been raised in public policy discourse among GCC states of Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and Oman as non-nationals are almost outnumbering the citizens. Thus, the number of citizens versus expatriates is being counterbalanced by the high levels of local unemployment (MEC, 2014).
Challenges and Problems Attributed to Demographic Imbalance
The issues attributed to demographic imbalance have led domestic policy agendas across GCC states to be reviewed. For example, several initiatives are underway aiming to raise educational and skill levels among GCC citizens. Vocational training and qualification programs have been developed to attain the goal. More so, nationalization of the GCC states workforces has also been declared a policy objective. Economies of GCC states, however, have remained dependent on the large numbers of low and semi-skilled laborers. The laborers often accept employment opportunities nationals among the GCC states are unwilling to seize and occupy. High oil prices have been fueling and sustaining economic growth since 2002. GCC states, therefore, rely on foreign workers to increase rather than decrease to sustain economic growth. Thus, they fail to implement policies decreasing the number of expatriates while sustaining economic growth (MEC, 2014).
Factors that have been underpinning demographic imbalance are bound to intensify in the future. Demand for labor has been soaring as mega-projects continue to be unveiled in the GCC states especially in UAE and Qatar coupled with infrastructural programs in Saudi Arabia. Dubai is currently experiencing a boom in economic projects as it prepares to host the 2020 Expo. Likewise, Qatar will host the 2022 FIFA World Cup. These economic factors pushing for socioeconomic growth and expansion, however, are also underpinning demographic imbalance. As a result, public’s perceptions towards demographic imbalance in the GCC states have been augmenting as they believe policies to address the issue have either been lacking or ineffective (CIRS, 2015).
For example, strategies to raise operating costs among companies employing foreigners have failed to discourage them from bringing more migrants as the overall cost of labor has not substantially increased. The most realistic policy options to reduce the number of expatriates involve increasing skill-sets among nationals as well as the full cost of migrants. The policy options, however, fail to address current concerns being raised by several nationals from the GCC states. The nationals believe they are surrounded by migrant workers. As a result, they feel their future roles in determining and influencing GCC states policies are being threatened. Ultimately, the demographic imbalance has been an issue causing nationals to raise highly sensitive policy matters influencing their socioeconomic and sociopolitical lives (MEC, 2014).
According to Bel-Air, United Arab Emirates entered into a new post-crisis phase of booming development. For example, the phase was witnessed after Dubai successfully bid and won the Expo 2020. The phase is attributed to the high rate of population growth further contributing to the demographic imbalance. The demographic imbalance has also been enhancing political control and management of natural and human resources which has been characterizing the post-financial crisis era. GCC states set a registry recording population figures and demographic characteristics. The figures, however, have not yet been disclosed publicly in real time despite five censuses being conducted at the federal level between 1975 and 2005. In 2015, a comprehensive population report of the 2005 census was to be released under the supervision of the National Bureau of Statistics. The process was, however, canceled. Thus, intercensal population data has been an estimate of figures underlining the fragility of the GCC states in relying on international agencies to address demographic imbalance (Bel-Air, 2015).
For example, they have been overlooking scales of irregular sojourn and labor due to the dependency of the labor-intensive sectors including the construction segment. Consequently, financial and economic crises experienced globally have slowed down annual demographic growth while affecting economic heavyweights differently prompting populations to move from one GCC state to another. The high number of immigration due to increasing demographic growth rates can, therefore, be attributed to diverse economic paths chosen by the GCC states (Bel-Air, 2015).
Based on the population structure, men have been outnumbering women in GCC states by 1 to 3.5 among persons aged fifteen years and above. With regards to foreign population, there are four men for every woman. Persons in the working group account for eighty-five percent of foreigners. Thus, a large number of women lack employment opportunities despite being nationals of the GCC states. The statistics also affirm that a larger number of foreign men access employment than nationals of the GCC states. Nationals, however, hold below the secondary school education level compared to foreigners with tertiary skills (CIRS, 2015). Thus, nationals lack education skills and knowledge crucial to steer socioeconomic growth. Conversely, foreigners possess spectacular levels of skills required for top ranking companies in GCC states steering economic growth. Bel-Air asserts that foreigners access employment opportunities including managerial positions than the nationals as they have the qualifying skills and experience. Thus, GCC states do not focus on empowering the nationals with the knowledge and skills required among the working population (Bel-Air, 2015).
Solutions and Actions to Address the Challenges and Problems of Demographic Imbalance
The role of the kafala’ sponsorship system has been identified as the primary cause of structural and demographic imbalance in GCC states. For example, the Middle East Centre claims the kafala’ system causes the structural imbalance in labor markets further resulting in differential growth patterns in national and non-national workforce. The system also plays a major role in shaping the dynamics and size of populations of the GCC states. As a result, the kafala’ system should identify measures to reduce the number of foreign workers being imported into the GCC states. For example, Emirati and Kuwait households as of 2013 were employing at least ninety-four percent of foreigners to undertake the role of domestic workers. The sponsorship or kafala’ system should, therefore, strive to reduce the number of foreign workers being employed across GCC states to provide nationals with the opportunity of accessing and seizing available jobs (MEC, 2014).
Visa trafficking has been responsible for the increased labor importation. For example, the Saudi Arabia Minister of Labor asserted that seventy percent of all visas issued in 2003 were illegal as they had been sold on black markets. As the kafala’ system continues to evolve, it should also strive to balance relationships between immigrants and nationals as well as between business and state interests. The system will manage immigrations flows accordingly and assist in developing organized hierarchies of labor with expatriates above nationals mainly found in large foreign oil companies including the Aramco Oil Company (CIRS, 2015).
Currently, migrants gain entry to the GCC states by presenting work permits through a local or kafeel sponsor. The system should, therefore, formulate and implement a policy intended to deter migrants from settling permanently in the GCC states. The policy should also focus on the fact that the kafeel abuse their roles as they often accept fees from incoming migrants without following up the subject matter to ensure their presence in the GCC state does not violate the work permit agreement. Lastly, the policy should address cases of malpractice such as those reported involving sponsors establishing ghost companies to cover-up importation of migrants without legal visas. Ultimately, the sponsorship kafala’ system should identify measures regulating the number of expatriates influencing labor markets. It should implement policies connecting professional advancements to economic productivity (MEC, 2014).
Business actors also have a role to play in addressing the demographic imbalance. Business actors have ensured the rate of employing migrant labor continues to grow. Consequently, they do not conceive their role as political actors with a stake in the public policy. Local business venture owners play a more recognized role in GCC states parliaments influencing legislatures. Their roles, however, appear informal, sometimes opaque and challenging to map. This presents an analytical gap in tracing how business interests can be manifested in actual policy with clear implications for decision makers in the GCC states to address the consistent issues attributed to demographic imbalance (Ingo, & Jane, 2011).
As a result, business actors should implement policies that can maintain low-cost labor base provided by migrant laborers. They should also ensure the government provides jobs to citizens for social, economic, and political reasons. They should, however, ensure the government is consistent with the broader expectation of the GCC states being commercial providers and redistributors of resources. Ultimately, business actors should ensure economic interests do not collide with political demands during job creation. Consequently, nationals will be guaranteed of jobs further enabling them to play a role in steering sustainable economic diversification (Ingo, & Jane, 2011).
GCC states should empower the nationals by ensuring they pursue education beyond the secondary level. They should encourage nationals to be degree holders required by major ranking companies steering economic growth in the GCC states. The GCC states should also establish programs providing women and men with skills and information required for the working population. For example, the GCC states should establish programs enhancing nationals’ business skills to encourage self-employment. Consequently, nationals can attain economic independence and increase employment opportunities for the men and women lacking the capital to start business ventures. Ultimately, the GCC states should strive to empower the nationals (CIRS, 2015).
Demographic imbalance ought to be addressed as a set of interconnected policy challenges running through political, social, and economic structures in the GCC states. Existing diverging sets of interests have been creating policy dilemmas that have not been resolved. This has been evidenced by the failure of successive labor nationalization initiative in attempts to reduce relative and absolute numbers of expatriates in the workforce of GCC states. It is, therefore, vital for GCC states to formulate sound public policies addressing short-term and long-term prospects of socioeconomic cohesion. As a result, the governments should identify and implement measures moving forward sustainable economic growth in the long run. They should also strive to transform economies of the GCC states. For example, they should shift from the comparative advantage in oil and gas towards a competitive advantage in human capital. Consequently, they can underpin policies enhancing skill levels of nationals in the GCC states increasing their representation in labor markets (CIRS, 2015).
Policy makers including economic and political actors and stakeholders should identify measures and policies balancing their competing perspectives and interests. The balance should, however, match short-term requirements with broader reforms seeking to enhance the growth of economies and labor markets. A comprehensive approach examining demographic issues rather than focusing challenges affecting labor markets and nationalization should be applied. Officials in the GCC states ought to understand that greater access to comprehensive statistics and reliable data is crucial in formulating policies addressing the demographic imbalance. As a result, they should conduct public and policy debates enabling participants and stakeholders targeting incremental reforms to offer viable solutions. Consequently, viable ideas and opinions that can reform existing political, social, and economic structures can be identified and implemented. The charged public and political discourse on demographic imbalance should be diffused to balance certain considerations addressing concerns among nationals and non-nationals. Consequently, a mutually beneficial relationship between host and expatriate societies can be developed and sustained (Ingo, & Jane, 2011).
The Middle East displays high levels of inequality as states with different social, political and economic structures and resources live side by side. The report has affirmed that the different socio-economic and socio-political structures have impacted on the dynamics of intra-regional migration profoundly. The migration pattern has been facilitated by particular demographic features coupled with economic needs of the GCC states. As a result, distinct socioeconomic and sociopolitical factors shaping demographic imbalance should be addressed. Consequently, issues arising from demographic imbalance influencing labor markets and socio-cultural integration can be addressed and resolved. Ultimately, the chronic political instability, cultural affinities, vast and socioeconomic disparities that have been pushing and pulling factors of integration should be resolved.
Bel-Air, D. F. (2015). Demography, Migration and the Labour Market in the UAE. Gulf Labour Markets and Migration Explanatory Note. Retrieved from http://cadmus.eui.eu/bitstream/handle/1814/36375/GLMM_ExpNote_07_2015.pdf
Centre for International and Regional Studies (CIRS). (2015). Arab Migrant Communities in the GCC. The Georgetown University School of Foreign Service in Qatar, Summary Report. Retrieved from https://repository.library.georgetown.edu/bitstream/handle/10822/713078/CIRSSummaryReport12ArabMigrantCommunities2015.pdf;sequence=5
Ingo, F., & Jane, E. (2011). The GCC’s “Demographic Imbalance”: Perceptions, Realities and Policy Options. Middle East Policy. Retrieved from https://www.mepc.org/journal/middle-east-policy-archives/gccs-demographic-imbalance-perceptions-realities-and-policy-options
Ingo, F., & Jane, E. R. (2010). Unemployment in the Gulf: Time to update the social contract. Middle East Policy, 17(2): 38-51. Retrieved from https://www.erutledge.com/media/E.J.Rutledge–2010–MEP-17-2–38-51.pdf
Middle East Centre (MEC). (2014). Addressing the demographic imbalance in the GCC States. The London School of Economics Workshop Report. Retrieved from https://www.lse.ac.uk/middleEastCentre/publications/other/DemographicImbalanceinGCC.pdf