Can the Gulf States survive without its expat professionals?

Published:  10 Apr at 6 PM
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From high-ranking expat professionals to workers in the private sectors, many believe the Gulf States as a whole would suffer should all foreign workers decide to return to their home countries.

Workers from overseas at all levels make up a very high percentage of the entire region’s workforce, making mass layoffs a very real risk to the economy. At the present time, it’s not just the coronavirus which is threatening the monarchies of the Arab Gulf States, it’s also the collapse in the price of oil. The double whammy is forcing rulers and their advisors to rethink their policies towards all sectors of expatriates who’re helping to keep the region’s private sector successful and solvent.

The effect of the pandemic on national and international trade is on course to produce the most severe world recession since the dark days of the 1930s, and is likely to claim in excess of millions of jobs worldwide. Expat job losses in the Gulf States compromise employees’ statuses in every way from immigration status to practicalities such as opening a bank account, getting a phone and even renting accommodation, all of which essentials require the permission of an employer. Basically, for most expats, citizenship or even permanent residency are unrealisable dreams.

The fact is that the entire region couldn’t survive without its expat population as it’s basically a service-sector domestic economy based on consumption by its huge expat community. Mass layoffs of workers at any or all levels would choke off spending, resulting in mass closures of foreigner-aimed outlets from local eateries through the service industry right up to the world-famous stores in the luxury malls. Even before the pandemic hit, the signs were there as anti-expat sentiment increased and government budgets overspent, but the virus has forced an end to retail activity, suspended tourist and business travel and seen mage-malls closing at an unprecedented rate.

Construction is on hold, and private sector bosses are shrinking their workforces in the UAE and across the region. As a result, governments are easing up on expats, with long-term residency now possible if expensive and rigid immigration laws bending in the right direction. However, many expats with years of Gulf State experience under their belts and a good understanding of Arab culture believe it’s too little, too late for the rulers to force a radical change of direction, even if it stood a small chance of working.
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