Indian Labour Migration to the Arab Gulf States. The Impact of a Growing Interdependence

  • Doreen Storbeck (Author)

Identifiers (Article)


Historical ties, geographical proximity and a labour force surplus made India the natural answer to the Arab Gulf states‟ manpower shortage in the 1970s. Rising oil and gas revenues enabled the countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) to invest heavily in their infrastructure, but forced them for demographic reasons to open their doors to manpower primarily from India.
With more than five million migrants Indians represent the biggest expatriate community in the GCC region today. To attain a better standard of living for themselves and their families they incur heavy debts to take up employment on the Arabian Peninsula, only to be at the mercy of their kafīl (sponsor) after their arrival. The sponsorship system, which is differently applied in every country of the GCC, results in exploitation and harassment that has no equal.
Dependent on the vast armies of blue-collar workers from South Asia but at the same time threatened by their growing numbers and demands the Arab Gulf states have so far resisted increasing pressure from the Indian and Western governments as well as international NGOs to address the migrants‟ grievances and to improve their working and living conditions.