Karim Sahibafp/ Stringer/ Getty Images

The Gulf States’ Expat Dividend

The extraordinarily high proportion of foreign labor in the Gulf states is often considered problematic, because it threatens local cultures and national identities, holds down wages, and impedes the development of domestic skills and talent. But the Gulf States’ large foreign populations aren't just workers; they're also consumers.

PARIS – How should policymakers in the Middle East’s Gulf States manage their countries’ large expatriate workforces? In Saudi Arabia, foreign nationals account for roughly one-third of the population. In Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, nine out of every ten residents is an expatriate. Should these countries’ governments continue to invest heavily in developing indigenous labor forces, with the aim of decreasing dependency on foreign workers?

The extraordinarily high proportion of foreign labor within the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries is often considered problematic, because, as some see it, it threatens local cultures and national identities, holds down wages, and impedes the development of domestic skills and talent. With so many trades and professions dominated by relatively cheap overseas labor, the indigenous population is often left with few occupational domains offering competitive wages. These tend to be predominantly in the public sector, where oil revenues are used to maintain high pay and attractive working conditions.

But an important dimension of the policy debate within the region risks being overlooked: The Gulf States’ large foreign populations are not just workers; they are also consumers. By inflating the population of the countries in which they live, expatriate workers are helping drive economic growth.

To continue reading, please log in or enter your email address.

Registration is quick and easy and requires only your email address. If you already have an account with us, please log in. Or subscribe now for unlimited access.


Log in

  1. China corruption Isaac Lawrence/Getty Images

    The Next Battle in China’s War on Corruption

    • Chinese President Xi Jinping knows well the threat that corruption poses to the authority of the Communist Party of China and the state it controls. 
    • But moving beyond Xi's anti-corruption purge to build robust and lasting anti-graft institutions will not be easy, owing to enduring opportunities for bureaucratic capture.
  2. Italy unemployed demonstration SalvatoreEsposito/Barcroftimages / Barcroft Media via Getty Images

    Putting Europe’s Long-Term Unemployed Back to Work

    Across the European Union, millions of people who are willing and able to work have been unemployed for a year or longer, at great cost to social cohesion and political stability. If the EU is serious about stopping the rise of populism, it will need to do more to ensure that labor markets are working for everyone.

  3. Latin America market Federico Parra/Getty Images

    A Belt and Road for the Americas?

    In a time of global uncertainty, a vision of “made in the Americas” prosperity provides a unifying agenda for the continent. If implemented, the US could reassert its historical leadership among a group of countries that share its fundamental values, as well as an interest in inclusive economic growth and rising living standards.

  4. Startup office Mladlen Antonov/Getty Images

    How Best to Promote Research and Development

    Clearly, there is something appealing about a start-up-based innovation strategy: it feels democratic, accessible, and so California. But it is definitely not the only way to boost research and development, or even the main way, and it is certainly not the way most major innovations in the US came about during the twentieth century.

  5. Trump Trade speech Bill Pugliano/Getty Images .

    Preparing for the Trump Trade Wars

    In the first 11 months of his presidency, Donald Trump has failed to back up his words – or tweets – with action on a variety of fronts. But the rest of the world's governments, and particularly those in Asia and Europe, would be mistaken to assume that he won't follow through on his promised "America First" trade agenda.