Taken from an economic, social, or political perspective, human migration in the MENA countries has had long-term advantages and disadvantages. This can be evident from the fact that labor mobility of foreign nationals presents positive gains not only to the host nation but also to the source country. On the one hand, recipient nations; the countries from which foreign workers originate enjoyed various benefits, key among them poverty reduction and improving the balance of payments while at the same time promoting economic prosperity. On the other hand, host nations also benefited from the influx of foreign human capital; necessary for executing a variety of economic agendas. As countries in the oil rich Middle East countries earn huge revenues from oil and gas exports, the demand for human capital surpasses the supply offered by these countries. Public enterprises offered employment opportunities for citizens while multinational companies attract foreign human capital for lower wage rates.
True to the letter, the multidimensional aspect of labor mobility in the MENA region states had been beneficial to both exporters and importers of human capital. However, as the GCC countries developed their infrastructure and improved on the access to quality education, the countries offering human capital failed to institute long-term macroeconomic strategies to stem rapid growth by lowering fertility rates. Remittances accrued by these countries have been significant though the means with which to channel them to the improvement of sectors like manufacturing and industry failed. These have had adverse effects in a number of countries in the region leading to political disintegration and economic downturns mainly due to weak macroeconomic policies and institutions.
Multi-Dimensions of Migration in the MENA countries
The movement of human beings from one locality to another has a long trailing history which can be traced back to the prehistoric periods of human evolution and civilization. Both domestic and international migration of human beings has taken place over the entire period of human history and under various religious, political, economical and climatic circumstances (Haas, 2007). However, human migration whether voluntarily or involuntarily has had both positive and negative impacts to the many aspects of life. A historic and fundamental feature of human migration is the significant impact it has had on the distribution of human population, facilitating the development of new cultures and the growth of the complex multiculturalism evidenced in some parts of the world (Edwards, 2005).
Besides, the diffusion of culture and mixing of races has had a negative effect on the social behavior of human beings giving rise to racial discrimination, racism and increased criminality. More importantly, human migration has had far reaching impacts to the economic development of many countries particularly due to the demographic consequences associated with it (Fieler, 1991). This paper seeks to discuss the advantages and disadvantages of human migration in the Middle East and North African countries (MENA). In doing so, the author focuses on the impacts of migration on the economic, political and social development in the Middle East region.
One of the key economic advantages of human migration to the host country is the availability of human capital required for different economic activities. According to contemporary economic theory, long term benefits arising from labor mobility of foreign nationals presented positive gains for both the host nation and the country whose workers originate from (Laipson, 2002, p176). Available research findings show that MENA countries went through a turbulent economic phase from 1982 through to 1989 leading to a major recession that played a significant role in the migration of labor to and from these states.
A sharp decline in the demand for oil from OPEC member states translated to a corresponding sharp drop in revenues from oil (Laipson, 2002, p182). This meant that labor intensive projects such as infrastructure had to be stopped for the lack of finances needed for their completion (Fieler, 1991, p134). This however did not translate to a huge drop in the presence of foreign workers in these countries due to the political factors and more so the social factors such as Arabic brotherhood.
During the early 1970’s foreign workers in MENA states were estimated to tally at a couple hundred thousand. By the mid 1970’s, this numbers had increased to nearly two million with a majority of these foreign workers migrating to oil producing countries. In 1980, the magnitude of labor mobility had surpassed the three million mark with nearly 65 % of them being from the MENA countries (Fieler, 1991, p135). The Iran Iraq war also presented an increase in the demand for foreign workers in Iraq and statistics presented in 1983 confirmed that within the OPEC member states in MENA, over five million foreign workers were documented (Omran & Roudi, 1993, p11). Nearly 55% of this workforce originated from MENA countries only. In 1985, the Arab league presented research findings that close to 4 million workers of foreign origin resided in the Gulf countries with the exception of findings from the oil rich nation of Iraq (Fieler, 1991, p135).
According to the research findings nearly one and a quarter million Egyptians were actively working in MENA states. This labor mobility greatly improved the availability of labor in these countries (Fieler, 1991, p135). Major labor importing MENA states such as Iraq and Saudi Arabia attracted up to 65% of the foreign workforce back in 1983. Other MENA countries that imported labor during this period include Libya, Kuwait, the UAE, Jordan, Oman and Qatar. Major exporters of labor among the MENA countries were Egypt with nearly 60% of the entire foreign workforce in the MENA states as well as Jordan, the Sudan and Yemen (Edwards, 2005).
Workers originating from Egypt and migrating to work in oil rich NEMA states increased considerably from 1973 to 1978. In 1973 an estimated 200,000 Egyptians offered their services and the number grew to one and a quarter million in 1978 (Omran & Roudi, 1993, p20). After the conflict between Iran and Iraq began in the 1980’s the number of foreign workers from Egypt to other MENA states increased to nearly 3 million (Edwards, 2005). Jordan, both an importer and exporter of labor within the Middle East and North Africa regions attracted Egyptian labor while also exporting labor to the region that was nearly 60% of its entire labor force at the time. The Sudan also contributed a number of workers to other Arab countries and according to a study presented to the Sudanese government in 1987 more than 250,000 of its citizens were working in foreign Arab states (Edwards, 2002, p 6-7).
During the recession experienced in the 1980’s by the MENA countries, repatriations of foreign workers to and from these regions were rather low key. This was basically due to the fact that such workers were not limited to the oil industry only but rather employed for their diverse inputs to other sectors of the economies in oil producing countries (McCormick & Wahba, 2003, p 185). Egypt was one such labor exporter regardless of the political alienation after improved relations with Israel early in 1979. Available literature supports this case in which foreign workers in other MENA states were not adversely affected by the ensuing political and more so economic boycott as a result of the improved relations with Israel (Omran & Roudi, 1993, p9). Unlike predictions made by scholars who viewed this as a cause for major concern with regard the crisis Egypt could have had to mitigate as a result of massive repatriations did not come to pass but the process was rather well defined. This case has been supported by available literature to the effect that by 1989 statistics defining the labor mobility by Egyptian foreign workers among MENA oil producing countries remained stable (Sell, 1988, p91).
The Labor Ministry in Egypt provided statistics that indicated that as older foreign workers returned home during the recession, younger Egyptians applied for permits to work in foreign nations. This was also supported by the fact that the MENA states valued the professionalism and skills coming from Egypt provided that their behavior was acceptable (Laipson, 2002, p182). Therefore, contrary to the treatment of foreign workers from other MENA states, work permits for Egyptian foreign workers were not withheld or revoked with countries such as Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and the UAE confirming to the then Egyptian President that the priority for employing more Egyptians as workers was sign