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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 significant (Fieler, 1991, p135).
The ensuing political climate in the region dictated by the Iraq-Iran war also played a part in this development. Both the need for skilled labor in Iraq during the war and the provision of military assistance to same country ensured that Egyptian workers enjoyed a comfortable degree of acceptance in these countries. Kuwait, the UAE and Saudi Arabia referred to as the Gulf States sought to indirectly support the Egyptian government through improved remittances as a credible source for foreign exchange (Sell, 1988, p91).
After the war, repatriation of Egyptian foreign workers was accelerated by the fact there was an increased need for the integration of Iraqi military service men to be involved in the countries reconstruction efforts. The labor market in Iraq, the largest importer of Egyptian labor became flooded with nearly half a million Iraqi military service men resulting in low wages. The repatriation of foreign workers of Egyptian origin was also supported by the fact that the relations between Egypt and its North African neighbor Libya attracted the Egyptian labor coming from Iraq (Fieler, 1991, p 136). However, the Egyptian government did suffer from a great deal of strain with even the gradual inflow of workers returning home from MENA states. The Egyptian ministry for emigration supported initiatives in the country meant to absorb the influx of repatriates. Soil upgrading programs were presented to these expatriates in whom a given percentage of such reclaimed land would be accorded to the repatriates (Haas, 2007, p 16).
By 1989, foreign workers of Jordanian origin to other MENA countries stood at nearly 350,000. Jordan was both a major labor importer while also serving as a major labor exporter to other Arab countries. The simple fact that Jordan was a major exporter of labor meant that the country had to import labor to meet the labor demand presented by its economy. However, as the economic recession continued through the 1980’s, Jordanians returning back home after 1985 increased marginally flooding the country’s labor market thus lowering their earnings in wages and other forms of remuneration. This led the Jordanian authorities redefining their stand on foreign labor imports (Winckler, 1997, p115). This was accelerated by the fact that the economic recession being experienced at the time by MENA states the availability of employment for the country’s well educated youth was not forthcoming coupled by the fact that the Jordanian economy had also slumped considerably. In an effort to mitigate this negative effect, the Jordanian government sought to improve the training of skills needed most by the Jordanian labor market while at the same time cutting back on importing foreign labor.
Kuwait, a major foreign labor importer in the Middle East region took a rather radical approach at the time in an effort to continuously steer its economy towards development during the 1980’s recession (Edwards, 2005p11-12). According to census results presented in 1985, the country’s indigenous population continued to diminish with relation to the foreign workers present in its labor market. Due to political and economic factors, the Kuwaiti government to some extent deported a number of foreign nationals working in its labor market. Terrorism became a great concern for the country after the terrorist bombings were carried out by extremist Islamic groups. After these bombings, nearly 4000 foreign workers were served with deportation papers many of them being of Iranian origin as well as Lebanese nationals.
As the Kuwait Government continued to attract more foreign labor, illegal immigrants were deported regularly and the country tightened its labor laws. In 1989, the Kuwait government took this aspect a notch further by prohibiting employers from acquiring foreign labor without the express authority from the Social Affairs and Labor ministry (Omran & Roudi, 1993, p16). Foreign workers were targeted through this legislation requiring employers to terminate contract after contracts expired and more so offer such financial support necessary for foreigners to be repatriated back to their countries of origin.
It is worthy to note that most of the MENA countries, more so the OPEC member states suffered a great deal after the oil prices collapse in the 1980’s (Omran & Roudi, 1993, p 14). However, most of these countries did manage to source capital continued development from other as foreign investments for Kuwait and remittances from Egyptians working abroad in the case for Egypt (Sell, 1988, p 92).
As countries in the oil rich Middle East countries earned huge revenues due to the presence of cheap foreign human capital, the recipient nations enjoyed the benefit of remittances which in this context refers to the amount of money send by the foreign workers back to their countries of origin (Taghavi, 2011, p 3). Evidenced from the available literature, approximately $ 532 million was sent back to recipient countries from Kuwait in the year 1979 and subsequently raised to $1.1 billion in 1979 after the recession. Additionally, over $4.4 billion was remitted from Saudi Arabia between 1979 and 1987. Egypt was the major beneficiary of the remittance having received approximately $10.1 billion between 1979 and 1987 (Fieler, 1991, p136-137).
Nevertheless, such high remittances were not necessarily a good thing as they are unstable income sources prone to a number of inhibiting factors such as social unrest or even political conflict. With respect to the countries in the MENA region gaining considerable revenues in terms of remittances from workers in foreign states was rather distressing (Gardner, 2011, p 7). These countries lacked the policy and more so the institutional framework necessary for facilitating the maximization of the benefits accruing from labor migration in the macroeconomic point of view. Such policies and institutionalized frameworks could have incorporated these remittances into means with which to stimulate their macroeconomic position (Taghavi, 2011, p 4).
In 1990, human development reports were introduced as a means to measure human progress realized through economic growth to be equated into human development. Countries in the MENA region had distinctive features which determined regional human development. These distinguishing features included exemplary revenues from the regions vast petroleum and gas reserves; the increased growth in the regions youth demography; inequalities in the regions’ labor market characterized by high unemployment figures among the youth and impressive investments in education characterized by a relatively low rate of productivity from the acquired education (Haas & Rooij, 2010, p 2-3). These characteristics interconnected in a complex nature to point out human development that could only be more reliable through the in depth analysis of specific countries in the MENA region. This is due to the fact that high growth rates among the youth translated to higher unemployment figures while huge amounts of revenue realized from natural oil and gas translated to enormous public sectors and a source of employment for the educated youth demography (Salehi-Isfahani, 2010, p 32). However, the misplaced emphasis placed on diplomas as opposed to productivity led to high rates of unemployment among the educated youth.
Heterogeneity was common with regard to human development in the MENA region. Diversity in per capita income in the region was brought about by the presence or not of natural oil and gas reserves. This was also the case relative to the quality and accessibility of both health and education. This was brought about by differences in wealth distribution and the academic institutions due to the reliance of some labor markets as well as the effectuality in public service delivery (Salehi-Isfahani, 2010, p 33). Countries endowed with massive oil reserves were privileged to earn huge per capita incomes and according to available literature the population density of the countries combined only translated to less than ten of the region’s total population. These countries in the MENA region include Oman, Qatar, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Libya and the UAE (McCormick & Wahba, 2003, p 186). Middle income countries in the MENA region include Iran and Iraq and their population density translated to almost 80% of the MENA region’s population. These countries were also oil exporting countries. The third group in this region included Sudan, Djibouti and Yemen which accounted for about 13% of the region’s population (Edwards, 2005, p 9).
As much as inequalities in income among the countries in the MENA region were diverse, homogeneity was improved through cultural and historical aspects of the region. MENA countries were endowed with a common language which was spoken widely in the region while oil revenues connect the regions together in an economic perspective. Such labor mobility, wealth distribution, and human capital in the region resulted into similarities amongst the MENA regions countries (Gardner, 2011, p 5). Economic development translated to the need for lower fertility rates which had rather been slow in the region. The huge number of unemployed youth and unemployment of the same had led to a number of unfavorable outcomes witnessed in the region. However some countries in the region have become proactively involved in ensuring fertility transition in line with contemporary economic development theory (Drysdale, 2010, p 6). This economic theory equated the function of a family as the sole producer of human capital significant for modern growth rates in an economics perspective. This was closely related to the education and health of both the children and in line with contemporary women empowerment objectives.
Characteristic to MENA countries was the high source of revenue which had the implication that median income earners were not dependent on production output and explained the main reason as to why transition to low fertility had been adversely delayed (Drysdale, 2010 p 6). As opposed to developed countries, gender equality in the MENA states had been lagging with the contemporary traditional cultures relegating the role of women to motherhood and that of a wife (Haas & Rooij, 2010, p 5). The role of women in the MENA countries had been delayed from being realized as that of full citizenship not as a result of Islam religion but due to the huge amount of oil; income shared in these countries.
The transition to lower fertility rates in these economic blocs required concerted efforts towards social transformation hindered by the high incomes from oil and gas exports in the region. It is worthy to note that in oil rich states such as Saudi Arabia and Oman, child mortality rates were significantly low (Drysdale, 2010, p 9). The high fertility rates however, placed these states in an odd position with regards to the human development index. Iran, a middle income oil producing country had been successful in initiating and running programs that enhanced both low fertility rates and low child mortality rates. The low income MENA countries such as Djibouti, Sudan and Yemen still exhibited high child mortality rates (Drysdale, 2010, p 6).
In the MENA countries, the youth represented a huge percentage of the regions overall population as well as representing the most educated segment in the regions demography. The social impact as a result of this disparity had led to a rather delayed integration of the youth into self sustaining employment and more so the transformation into family formation (Maruska, 2009, p 55). According to the culture embedded in the social society of the MENA countries, the youth are considered as adults after exhibiting the ability to securing self sustaining employment, career advancement, marriage and or the voluntary movement away from parental supervision (McCormick & Wahba, 2003, p189).
These transitions were rather turbulent in the MENA regions and were primarily due to involuntary marriage delays as well long periods of unemployment. These pressures were further compounded by the huge number of skilled workers in all disciplines, imbalances in marriage and more so volatile housing markets (Birks et al., p 288). This had more so been rendered more complex by the multi-dimensional labor migration patterns and the impact felt by both the host society and the country of origin. Migration was closely related to the search for favorable economic opportunities as well as political situations coupled by religious inclinations (Mghari, 2004, p 73).
As the world tended closer to a novel global economy, labor mobility also increased with the competition exhibited in various labor markets. From an economics point of view, the labor markets involved the exchange of human capital to willing employers offering them both monetary compensation and accommodation (Labaki, 2006). MENA states were considered as among the least integrated economically with respect to the entire world but also known to be the most integrated in an economics stand point with respect to intra-Arab labor movements (Kapiszewski, 2004, p 119). With this in mind, it is worthy to note that labor migrations among these countries were all tied to oil and gas revenues which trickled down to other Arab countries without the valuable natural oil and gas resources. Arab nations in the NEMA region acted as both vital sources of remittances as well as critical destinations for such remittances revolving around the oil producers and the non oil Arab nations. Gulf States were some of the wealthiest nations in the region and had been the most active in attracting labor from MENA nations such as Tunisia, Morocco, Jordan, Lebanon and Egypt (Gardner, 2011, p12).
Evidently from the available literature, Jordan was heavily dependent on the labor mobility to the GCC nations during the 1970’s oil boom which burst in the 1980’s pushing the NEMA countries into a period of economic recession (Kapiszewski, 2004, p 116). By 1991, the unemployment level in the country registered an unemployment rate in excess of 12%. Factors that led to the high unemployment levels are diverse ranging from the peace agreement with their religious rival, Israel to uncertainties prevalent in the Middle East region (Khouri, 2004, p 24). Survey data for employment and unemployment officially presented in 2002 by Jordanian officials expressly highlighted the predicament faced by the youth in that country. A majority of the youth had no hope of securing employment as no suitable work was forthcoming.
By 2002, the country’s workforce was estimated to be nearly one and a quarter million with the employed being less than 1.2 million (Winkler 1997, p 116). According to available literature, at least 50,000 citizens joined the workforce while a huge number of foreign laborers reside in the country. Both legal and illegal foreign workers in the country accounted for bout more than 400,000 in 2002 (Gardner, 2011, p 12). Most of these immigrant workers in the country perform jobs that are not appreciated by the Jordanian people. Most are from Syria and Egypt (Winckler, 1997, p 118). In an effort to reverse this trend, which adversely bears down on the country’s balance of payment were made by the government adopting measures to schedule certain job to Jordanian nationals only. The unemployment rate continues to increase necessitating the need for the government to look for means with which to limit the number of foreign nationals causing this anomaly (Kapiszewski, 2004, p 117).
On the other hand, unemployment in Egypt also presents the government with dilemmas as to how to control the rising unemployment rates. When Jordan decided to eliminate and deport illegal immigrants from the country, the levels fell only marginally as in later years a net increase in the Egyptians in Jordan was recorded. According to expert analysis, Egypt has to attract foreign direct investment and more so enhance its export portfolio through the macro-economic application of huge remittances received into spurring growth.
Another notable country that experienced high social impacts due to human migration was Qatar. Qatar being one of the wealth countries in the MENA regions attracts labor mobility that is both young and well educated. According to the immigrant workers in the country, incomes were always on time as well as enjoying a relatively improved quality of life (SESRI, 2011, p 8). Qatar a member of the GCC countries offered many opportunities for both the skilled and non skilled workers. The country was both wealthy and economically developed Qatar and other GCC countries enjoy a high rate of growth unparalleled in the developed world as a result of labor mobility as well as high fertility rates (SESRI, 2011, p 9).
Qatar attracted immigrant workers from south Asia, Africa and other non oil producing states in the MENA region and as such immigrants surpass the actual population of indigenous Qatari citizens. This is primarily due to the fact that foreign immigrants were the principle source of human capital in the small but wealthy Gulf State (SESRI, 2011, p 7). This phenomenon was common in other Gulf States but the respective governments tended to value segregation policies as means with which to protect the cultural identity of its citizens (Kapiszewski, 2004, p 117). According to the available literature, foreign workers were housed in bachelor cities to meet this end. The result of the immigrant population being larger than the indigenous citizens did in a number of cases resulted in some degree of cultural conflict. The conflict was usually due to the fact that these immigrants represented different societies and as such the cultural norms tended to differ (SESRI, 2011, p 6).
The Qatari government favored the concept that foreigners should be accorded a sponsor who was also the employer of the immigrant worker and accommodator. Upon expiry of a contract, the sponsor was tasked with ensuring that the immigrant worker could be repatriated to the country of origin (Edwards, 2005, p 9). This had been the case with Gulf States in a scenario in which they needed the labor to drive their economic agendas. According to statistics presented in 2002, over 40% of the scientists and skilled technicians in Saudi Arabia alone were foreign nationals. Over 54% of the same professional cadre in Kuwait, 58 % in Libya and nearly 70% in Yemen were foreign nationals.
In Libya, the political situation deteriorated as other North African countries grappled with realigning new governments after similar civil unrests. These were witnessed in Egypt and Tunisia where high unemployment rates for the educated youthful population used online social networking sites to bring the leaders of these nations to abdicate their positions (Institute for Economics & Peace. 2011, p 13). These political instabilities were foreseen but the magnitudes of the protests were unforeseen. In Libya, the mobility of labor into the country as well as high unemployment rates for it increasing number of educated youth actually sparked a civil war. Libya under Muammar Qadhafi had amassed enormous wealth from its oil reserves and to the ruling elite this was enough to keep the citizens well endowed and to live normal and productive lives (Institute for Economics & Peace. 2011,p 13).
However in a country led by different clan members, there were a number of cases in which the Qadhafi administration practiced nepotism to a great extent. Members close to senior officials in government were able to secure employment while other tribes in the oil rich state could not have access to the same. Labor mobility into the country also meant that the educated youth in the country could not get jobs and more so the rather increasing entry and exit with regards to the jobs market was weighing down on the youthful population (Institute for Economics & Peace. 2011, p 13).
In Tunisia, unemployment was also one of the contributing factors that led to the removal of the Tunisian president. As discussed earlier, countries in the MENA regions enjoyed a peaceful correlation with respect to the oil boom in the 1970’s and even after the oil prices collapsed, labor migration was constant due to the regions political climate and unemployment figures. The low rate of transition from high fertility to low fertility during the 1980’s was delayed in line with the cultural values imbedded in the societies in the MENA regions (Institute for Economics & Peace. 2011, p 13).
As the education quality improved and the improved health standards were accessible to all, child mortality decreased significantly. Among the NEMA countries sharing a common language and more so similar cultural values labor mobility across borders was and is common (Mehdi, 2004, p 14). Remittance from foreign workers in offering their services to the other oil rich nations could have been put to better use such that the macroeconomic status of the non oil states could have be adequately channeled to alleviate unemployment by boosting sectors such as manufacture and industry. The remittances would also have been applied for projects that set out to sensitize for the need for lowering the higher fertility rates (Mehdi, 2004, p 14).
With all things considered, 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 improve on the quality and 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 had been significant though the means with which to channel them to the improvement of sectors such as manufacturing and industry failed. These 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.
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