The Covid-19 pandemic has not only brought in an array of economic, environmental, behavioural and social changes but has also left in its wake a massive disruption of the labour markets across the globe. Increased restrictions on travel and mobility combined with the added safety protocol of social distancing implies that labour-intensive sectors like construction, retail, etc., are majorly affected. The GCC economies which were already dealing with a slump in the oil and gas sector had to face another disruption, which particularly accentuated the vulnerabilities of the migrant populations.
It is worth mentioning here that the GCC economy to a large extent is heavily reliant on the migrant population. It is estimated that about 35 million international migrants reside in the GCC countries. The presence of migrant workers in the six GCC countries accounts for over 10% of all migrants globally. They constitute majority of the population in Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates (ILO). One of the most prominent migrant groups in the GCC countries are Indian migrants, who account for almost 9 million of the total population. Almost 80% of the Indians migrants are engaged in semi-skilled and low-skilled job roles across the private and public sectors. Due to the pandemic, most Indian migrants who are engaged as blue-collar and low-skilled workers in the region had to face exceptional difficulties. Further, as a result of Covid-19, there has also been a shift in demand in the Gulf labour market. While some job roles have witnessed reduced demand for migrant workers, other job opportunities in sectors like care, manufacturing, storage, real estate, etc., are expected to open and see more mobility (NSDC, 2020 report).
Additionally, changes in policies pertaining to the labour market, visa and entry related restrictions can aggravate the economic slowdown that is already being witnessed in the GCC region. This process has been ushered in to safeguard the interest of their citizens, minimize the losses incurred due to Covid-19 and bring about labour reforms.
These policy changes that have been introduced are both short-term and long-term in nature. Short-term changes are those pertaining to visa rules while long term changes have been rolled out in countries like Qatar and Saudi Arabia which are amending systems like the Kafala (also known as the Sponsorship system). Oman will also soon follow the footsteps of other member countries by bringing in new labour law reforms and doing away with the No Objection Certificate (NOC) requirement for expat workers for changing employers and leaving the country. Efforts are also underway to bring about new law reforms in Bahrain which prohibits wage-based discrimination between male and female employees who hold the same job and who work in similar conditions.
Further, with the rising unemployment in GCC countries, nationalization schemes are also underway to balance the participation of nationals and migrant workers in their respective countries. Policies like Kuwait’s Expat Quota Bill seek to absorb more Kuwaiti nationals into jobs and lower the total expatriate workforce population in the country. These changes will alter the composition of the labour market and will create an impact on the livelihoods of millions of Indian migrants employed in the GCC region.
It needs to be highlighted here that the India-GCC migration corridor acts as a key source of remittances for India, accounting for close to 50% of the total remittances (RBI figures). It is also significant in view of the employment opportunities that is created for millions of Indian migrants. Therefore, understanding these policy changes in the GCC region becomes vital. This will not only provide a tool to manage migration to GCC countries from India in a more coordinated manner but also shape the future of migration trends to these destinations as well.
Against this backdrop, India Centre for Migration (ICM) is organising a panel discussion on the topic of ‘Evolving Policy Landscape of GCC Countries: A Post-Covid Analysis’ on 11th March 2021 from 1500 to 1630 hrs which will be aimed at (but not limited to) discussing the following: