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Labour Migration from Asian to GCC Countries: Trends, Patterns and Policies

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image of Middle East Law and Governance

The six oil-rich Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries are among the largest recipients of temporary labor migrants in the world today with non-nationals comprising about 47% of their population. The upward trend in labor migration to the region has been especially pronounced since the early 1980s. Asian workers from Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Pakistan, the Philippines and Sri Lanka constitute the major stock of migrants. The proportion of Asian relative to Arab workers has increased over time with the former group comprising about 60-70% of foreign workers in some countries. Data on annual outflows from sending Asian countries shows a consistent upward trend in labor migration during the 1990s and 2000s. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are currently the largest recipients of Asian workers. A majority of migrants are male. However, the number of female workers has registered a consistent increase over time as a result of the rising demand for female domestic workers. Among the male workers, half or more are employed in unskilled occupations in the Gulf. The migration policies of the sending and receiving countries are at odds with each other. Sending countries aim to increase the outflows, primarily to enhance remittance receipts and curtail unemployment at home. Receiving countries aim to restrict migrant inflows and reduce migrant stock through concerted efforts towards nationalizing the labor force. Reconciliation of the above policies remains a challenge for the future.

Affiliations: 1: Professor, Kuwait University,


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