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Temporary Workers or Permanent Migrants? The Kafala System and Contestations over Residency in the Arab Gulf States

Temporary Workers or Permanent Migrants? The Kafala System and Contestations over Residency in the Arab Gulf States

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Published by IFRI

The Arab Gulf is the third largest receiving region for global migrants (after North America and the European Union). The six states of the Gulf Corporation Council (GCC) are the richest Arab economies, boast some of the highest GDP per capita rankings in the world, and they all depend upon guest workers in virtually every economic sector. Guest workers have played an integral role in the Gulf since the 1970s, supplying the skills and manpower needed to implement ambitious development plans.

Officially, the non-citizens residing in the Gulf are not migrants but temporary contractual laborers with little to no recourse for permanent settlement or citizenship. They enter the country as guest workers under fixed-term employment contracts and are obliged to leave upon the termination of their work. Their stay is regulated through the Kalafa or sponsorship system, which makes an individual national citizen or company sponsor (known as the Kafeel) legally and economically responsible for the foreign worker for the duration of the contract period. However, following the trend of most other guest worker schemes, the Kafala has produced a structural dependence on foreign labor that is not subsiding despite growing public discontent and rising unemployment rates among Gulf citizens.

In this article, Noora Lori examines the formal and informal institutions that support the inward flows of large numbers of foreign laborers while excluding non-citizens from full integration into Gulf societies.

This paper is part of the "Migration policies and international relations" publication series :

The impact of international migrations on the relations between states has been the focus of an extensive body of research and literature over the past two decades (e.g. on border control, labor market issues, transnational ties, etc.). Less an object of attention is the impact on international relations of states' responses to such issues - readmission agreements, visa policies, expulsions, etc. This program proposes to produce a series of on-line publications and public seminars on this issue.

The Arab Gulf is the third largest receiving region for global migrants (after North America and the European Union). The six states of the Gulf Corporation Council (GCC) are the richest Arab economies, boast some of the highest GDP per capita rankings in the world, and they all depend upon guest workers in virtually every economic sector. Guest workers have played an integral role in the Gulf since the 1970s, supplying the skills and manpower needed to implement ambitious development plans.

Officially, the non-citizens residing in the Gulf are not migrants but temporary contractual laborers with little to no recourse for permanent settlement or citizenship. They enter the country as guest workers under fixed-term employment contracts and are obliged to leave upon the termination of their work. Their stay is regulated through the Kalafa or sponsorship system, which makes an individual national citizen or company sponsor (known as the Kafeel) legally and economically responsible for the foreign worker for the duration of the contract period. However, following the trend of most other guest worker schemes, the Kafala has produced a structural dependence on foreign labor that is not subsiding despite growing public discontent and rising unemployment rates among Gulf citizens.

In this article, Noora Lori examines the formal and informal institutions that support the inward flows of large numbers of foreign laborers while excluding non-citizens from full integration into Gulf societies.

This paper is part of the "Migration policies and international relations" publication series :

The impact of international migrations on the relations between states has been the focus of an extensive body of research and literature over the past two decades (e.g. on border control, labor market issues, transnational ties, etc.). Less an object of attention is the impact on international relations of states' responses to such issues - readmission agreements, visa policies, expulsions, etc. This program proposes to produce a series of on-line publications and public seminars on this issue.

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Published by: IFRI on Jun 26, 2014
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08/31/2014

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______________________________________________________________________
 
Temporary Workers or Permanent Migrants?
The Kafala System and Contestations over Residency in the Arab Gulf States
 
 __________________________________________________________________
Noora Lori
November 2012
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Center for Migrations and Citizenship
 
 
The Institut français des relations internationales (Ifri) is a research center and a forum for debate on major international political and economic issues. Headed by Thierry de Montbrial since its founding in 1979, Ifri is a non-governmental and a non-profit organization.  As an independent think tank, Ifri sets its own research agenda, publishing its findings regularly for a global audience. Using an interdisciplinary approach, Ifri brings together political and economic decision-makers, researchers and internationally renowned experts to animate its debate and research activities. With offices in Paris and Brussels, Ifri stands out as one of the rare French think tanks to have positioned itself at the very heart of European debate.
The opinions expressed in this text are the responsibility of the author alone 
.
 
ISBN: 978-2-36567-087-6 © All rights reserved, Ifri, 2012
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Noora Lori is an ACLS/Mellon Dissertation Completion Fellow and a Research Fellow at the International Security Program at the Belfer Center, Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University. She is completing her final year as a doctoral candidate in Comparative Politics at the Department of Political Science at Johns Hopkins University. Her dissertation,
Unsettling State: Non-citizens, State Power, and Citizenship in the United Arab Emirates 
, examines the impact of labor migration on the political development and citizenship practices in the UAE. This research was funde
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ZEIT-Stiftung Ebelin und Gerd Bucerius Foundation (Hamburg, Germany). She has held positions as an  Adjunct Faculty member and Visiting Scholar at the Dubai School of Government (2009-2011), and a Dubai Initiative Fellow at the Belfer Center of the Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University (2011-2012). She has teaching experience at Johns Hopkins
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economy of state building, national security and civil society. Her research explores how the immigration and naturalization policies of the GCC states impact their institutional development, regime stability, political opportunity structures, and ultimately, prospects for democratization. Her previous publication addresses how the UAE has politically managed its transient population through the growth of a robust security apparatus and explores the impact of this institutional development on nationals and expatriates alike.
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 "National Security and the Management of Migrant Labor: A Case Study of the
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Asian and Pacific Migration Journal 
 Vol. 20, Nos.3-4, 2011.

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