Millions in the Gulf to Lose Visas?

Our Guest Blogger, Lee Nunley, is a recent college graduate who has
lived in Cairo and Budapest. He currently resides in Denver and is
working on a book-centered Web 2.0 project. He wanted to share news about the innovations in the Middle East with the readers of

Here's his article:

* * * * *

Millions of expats living in the Gulf countries could lose their visas, and be forced to leave Gulf countries, if a new proposal by Bahrain is passed.

On Monday, Bahrain, one of the six members of the Gulf Cooperative Council (GCC ), a trade bloc of Gulf countries, proposed capping work visas at six years. The proposal is meant as a step to ‘preserve local culture’, according to Bahraini officials. If the proposal is adopted by the GCC at its December meeting, the move will be the most radical yet to quell the rising number of foreign nationals residing in GCC states. Approximately 35 million foreign nationals live in the Gulf region (not including Iraq), and about 37% of these foreigners hold work visas.

Sonapur Camp outside of Duba: from Middle East OnlineSonapur Camp outside of Duba: from Middle East Online

Beach and Burj al-Arab: From TravelingDubai.comBeach and Burj al-Arab: From
A true picture of what is happening in the Gulf does not emerge until one considers the scale of development occurring in places like Dubai and its neighbor Oman. More than threatening skilled Western nationals, who this author believes would be allowed to maintain their visas through some sort of loophole, this proposal threatens the unskilled, primarily Asian, laborers working in various industries throughout the region. Megadevelopments, like the Dubai Tower, are heavily dependent on foreign labor, ranging from Western engineering talent to manual construction labor, much of it from India, Malaysia and the Philippines. These Asian laborers, who usually send remittances to families in poorer countries, are often the targets of latent, and occasionally overt, racism in the Gulf. Last year, rioting occurred at the aforementioned Dubai Tower, due to low wages and poor living conditions in work camps set up outside of the city which often resemble tenements in the laborers’ native countries .

What remains to be seen is whether or not Gulf countries, such as Qatar or the United Arab Emirates, where up to 80% of the residents are foreign nationals, will agree with Bahrain about limiting visa lengths. While, at the time of its inception in 1981, the GCC was relatively homogenous, it has grown into culturally and economically diverse trading bloc, with Saudi Arabia now extraordinarily conservative in comparison to parts of the UAE, like Dubai. These differences will likely play a key component in any decision on the proposal. However, high unemployment in many Gulf states may influence popular opinion regarding the proposal. Currently, unemployment among native Emiratis is over 30% for men and even higher for women. So, what the decision about Bahrain’s proposal to ‘preserve local culture’ may come down to is pure and simple economics.


Lee Nunley
Guest Blogger

Oct 7, 2007
by Anonymous (not verified)

doing the right thing

sounds like they need a Woody Guthrie like figure