30 September, 2006

Expats raised in Dubai

So my friend Wilbur came to visit me from NYC recently. We were talking about expats brought up here and I said it seems just wrong that they are legally treated no differently from any other worker who comes here today. He said, why? Their parents came here with the understanding they are here to make money and one day will have to leave. I said, ok, but the kids didn’t have a choice in the matter. He said, fine, but that’s the parents’ problem, not the UAE government’s. Blame the parents.

My questions to him were, does the UAE have any responsibility to expats who have been here their whole lives, and who have come back/stayed to work (he says no). The other question was, is this short-sighted planning on the government’s part, to not give any recognition to a class of professional workers (I imagine nearly all of them are “white collar” as their parents had to have a certain income level to have kids here) who are perfectly happy to stay? Now, I’m no economist, but if there is an economic bust and they, as well as other shorter-term expats, leave, when the economy gets going again, who will come? Wilbur said, big deal, so they go. They’ll be replaced. This is of course a hypothetical question, but it has interesting implications. I hear many people complain about the difficulty of finding quality workers here; how much worse it might be in the future. What do you all think? Related to this, let's play the "what if" game: what if the government were to expand giving nationality (but not financial benefits) or some kind of permanent residence (like a US green card) to people who've been here a long time (say 20+ yrs, like expats brought up here from childhood). This would give them residential security, if nothing else. Do you think this would be an overall plus or a bad idea for this place?


shansenta said...

It is an interesting observation. And while we're talking and playing this game of "What If", is anyone from the Government playing too?

I think not...
The signs for this observation are too visible:
1) Dubai tacitly promotes work place differentiation, as a result of which "community feeling" and "cultural assimilation" never happens (see my post on Fusion Spot / Melting Spot)
2) The "tug-of-war" between house rent / tenancy woes, rapid inflation and stagnant salaries are increasingly making expats feel financially insecure here. The very benefits that attracted so many expats here since the late 90s, are on the decline, thus compromising professional quality at the workplace(see the post on House Rents and Salaries)

archer14 said...

Funny that Wilbur says that expats came here to eventually leave. From where he hails from, there’s a giant ‘expat’ population that has wholly become citizens in a period of 5 years. It is this strength of mixed cultures, financial security and free trade (in real world terms, not GN/KT business news terms) that has made
the US what it has become today.

I’d like to ask your friend to

(a)Compare US life/economy with Dubai life.
(b)Open his eyes while he’s at it.
(c)Not blame parents after someone has crossed the age of 18.
(d)Not treat anyone as expendable.
(e)Use common sense, its free.

Everything in life is quid pro quo. You work for benefits. After a certain period of time, benefits have to be in excess of monetary exchange for any country to forge a path ahead. Otherwise it leads to what you see around you, right now, right here.

Back in my ZIP code said...

The UAE governemnt will never do that as they will always worry about a demographic shift away from their values.

Just an observation. Please feel free to correct me if you think that am wrong.

bizzwhizz said...

well if u see the last post by me on the UAEC.blog, youll see hw i feel the crushing toil of dubai's disowning policy

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bklyn_in_dubai said...

Just a point of clarification on what Wilbur was saying. In the US we have a compact where anyone, including sometimes illegals and definitely the US-born children of illegal immigrants, can become citizens. While some may try to backtrack against it, like Bush and co., the idea of coming in and staying is part and parcel of US culture. Here, however, there is no such compact between "labor migrants" and the state. The compact is explicit: work, then leave. If you have a business, then you can stay longer. But you still have to leave. Yes, quality of life here is declining. Yes, inflation and rents are excrutiating. But, as the saying goes, that's how the cookie crumbles. Archer14's points are well taken, and yes, you shouldn't treat people as expendable. But, and this is the broader point that Wilbur was getting at with me, the UAE government's position is clear: you are expendable. He agrees, I think, that that's not nice, but, that's their position. My question is, is this tenable in the long run? Zip code's point is also a good one, the fear of demographic shift. Having short term labor of 80% expat is more manageable socially than giving 10% of these expats some kind of permanent status. Wilbur's observations may be cold, but he's not. He's just making the point that there is a difference in the compacts between the US and UAE states in how they deal with their populations. For those of you who are expats short or long term, given all this, will you stay?

bandicoot said...

The constant recycling of working population has so far worked fairly well here. Erosion in qualifications and quality doesn't seem to be a major concern; at least not yet. Problem is there is no strategic plan that takes this and other issues into consideration; and worse, there is not much credible information for good analysis or future predictions. From limited personal experience, I don't see policy on immigration changing in the foreseeable future. Generations of expat kids growing here will always be foreigners and mostly end up going back "home" or somewhere else. No length of residency seems to make a difference; there are people (who now see themselves as "locals") who lived here for decades and never been naturalized.

Mme Cyn said...

There is a difference between an expat and an immigrant. UAE does not allow immigration (at least not to non GCCs). Simple. If people who came here to work did not realize this, then their research was lacking.

Parents of expat kids have a duty to make sure little Johnny & Janey know that this is not a permanent home and never will be. Would it be in the UAE's interest to offer kids born here some kind of permanence? Why? They fully support their culturally homogenous population and are very clear that they do not want their "morals and culture" tainted by non-Arab non-Muslim views. Why then would they want to include "citizens" brought up in a different mindset? And would you be happy with a citizenship-like arrangement without having the full rights of the Emirati? I think not.

CG said...

What I see in other countries tends to be that the people who grew up there adopted the ways of that country.

If the expats integrated properly here, perhaps by learning Arabic and reverting to Islam then it might be easier to accept them and then in turn count them as valuable residents/nationals. I just cannot see why they would want to give permanent residency to people who are only good for the country in an economical way.

As for the long term this country is way too young to think about the distant future.

bandicoot said...

It's perhaps a combination of economics and demographics; mostly jealously guarding a fragile national and cultural identity from being overwhelmed and limited land and resources from being overstretched. It's also beyond speaking Arabic and being Muslim. Most of the Muslim Arab expats who live here are not entitled for citizenship; actually they are generaly seen as inferior to European and North American expats.

shansenta said...

Every country has its economic challenges and for some countries it becomes practical to employ Expats to solve these. That is how globalisation works in the widest sense. Allowing people - who are contributing to the development of the country - to have permamanent residency is one of the ways to increase their emotional bank account with the country.
It is true that the character of the country should not be compromised, but I'd say it is myopic to believe that disallowing naturalisation is a solution!
Integration and assimilation in the truest sense doesn't really exist in the text-books of many GCC countries (Bahrain started for completely different reasons)! At best efforts, there's the expectation that "Expats should integrate"!! Or, as cg points out, "Non Muslims should convert".
Integration, Assimilation, Appreciation etc. doesn't come forced - it happens gradually, and naturally. You create opportunities of interaction, and slowly the cultures melt (I talked about this before)!

Coming to bklyn_in_dubai's comments, today US policies are justifiable in their own context. There was a time when the US attracted huge number of specialists, professionals, and scholars / professors. At that time there was a need to develop the country's economy and world leadership vis-a-vis USSR. And the ones who contributed then, were (and still are) treated royally. Now the same country is diminishing its requirements - and hence stricter laws are in place.
UAE on the other hand started off differently... there're two sets of intelligentia working - one that is West-educated-returned generation and the other is from the older/ wiser generation. The former looks at Expats only from the monetary point of view - and hence perhaps are economically myopic. The other is culturally rich, has wider views and vision, which knows the country's long-term limitations and accepts Expat's contributions.

In between you'll perhaps find the hapless Expats - whose woes seems to stem from the clashes between these 2 ideologies...

bklyn_in_dubai said...

Interesting comments from you all. I am particularly interested in mme cyn's and cg's comments. They correctly point out, as Wilbur did to me, that there is no immigration to the UAE. But the argument that the UAE is trying to somehow prevent moral degradation of the local population -- well, that won't be affected by the granting of some kind of permanent status for expats. Cultures do not stop at national borders. The expats and their various ways are here. Locals can move further and further into the desert, but they, and more importantly, their children, cannot escape the forces of globalization. How many parents 20 years ago would have thought that McDonald's would expand the waistlines underneath dishdashes and abayas?

Would expats be happy with a kind of second class citizenship? Those who have them must be, to a degree anyway. One fellow I know took this route, and he's fine with it. Will it lead to them demanding more? Very possibly. I would. But then again, this is no democracy and it is doubtful the state would put up with that.

As for expats assimilating culturally, well, there is no reason to when you are constantly told you are a temporary worker. Why would you bother, and why keep your money here? Of course, as others pointed out here, there are tens of thousands of Arab expats, Muslim, Arabic-speakers. They've done what cg suggests. Should the UAE, then, grant them citizenship en masse?

Cultural homogeneity? No such thing. Cultures by their nature are permeable and change. Socially homogenous? How many Indians, Iranians, etc marry in? While they may assimilate, they also change the culture and society. It may be imperceptible, but it's there.

As for the long term, it is precisely because the UAE is a new country that it is critical that the leaders think this one through. It is possible, perhaps even likely, that they can continue using workers like disposable tissue paper. But the inflationary pressures are such that many people are rethinking their being here. If Maria from Manila goes home because she's tired of sharing a room with seven other girls and having much less to send home than she did even a year ago, who will work the register at Gucci? And if tens of thousands leave at once -- as happened in Kuwait during the first Gulf War -- what then? In today's atmosphere, it is possible they might not come back in the same numbers. That will affect the economy, which in turn will affect the welfare benefits for locals. The question for the future is, do you hedge your bets and do something to entice certain middle class, professional expats to stay (beyond the wealthy ones in the freeholds), or do you gamble that things will always be rosy in the UAE?

Ali Hassan said...

Awesome comments, folks.

Bklyn....your last comment on Maria from Manila going back. Sure, she will go back. But what the UAE (and other GCC countries) are counting on is the seemingly inexhaustible supply of people in South Asia and South-East Asia who will come to the Gulf to work. Inspite of having heard from others that there isn't any money to be made or saved in the GCC, they are still willing to come here to work. Why? I don't know...perhaps what little they can save here is more than they can save back home?

bklyn_in_dubai said...

Ali Hassan, you are absolutely correct that Maria is replaceable with Janice or Li Ping. Even if one country's source is drying up, another country can be called upon. Saudia is planning just that by bringing in 50,000 Vietnamese workers. My questions are purely hypothetical: what happens when the wells run dry, and what if the expats, especially the skilled expats don't come? You hear a lot of grousing about the low quality of white collar expats coming in. Well, as costs go up and salaries don't keep pace... Bandicoot's point, "Erosion in qualifications and quality doesn't seem to be a major concern; at least not yet" is excellent, not yet being the key words. Again, right now this all speculation. But, and you can write this down on a piece of paper and stick it in the freezer, in 5-10 years, or less, they will have to seriously think about it, if only to maximize revenues to support what must be an astronomically expensive welfare state, that will only get more expensive as the local population grows, and its health and other costs increase.

bandicoot said...

...and this welfare state will get even more costly once you grant tens of thousands of expats and permanent residency and citizenship. This is one strand of local thinking; it's about money and profit margins. The current situation is much more profitable; not only because the government doesn’t have to provide more of the same privileges to more people, but because it will lose all the revenue it now collects (as government and as local business people) from expats; a revenue that in effect is the tax we all pay in return for living here in a supposedly “tax-free” country. This includes the fees you pay for visas, car registration, visitors and maids visas, just about any governmental document or permit, the unbelievable rent revenue, and of course the outrageous utilities bill.

The other strand of local thinking about this issue, and this is even harder for expats to understand, is a wide-spread self-perception that sees uae identity as exclusive to the national group and views expats as truly alien, culturally incompatible, potentially destructive, or even inferior. So it’s both cheaper and more convenient this way. As for the future, the plan has been for some years now to push more aggressively for emiritization to train enough locals the skills needed for critical jobs. Of course the jury is still out on this one. Not all hypothetical scenarios seem to figure out in local planning. The planners tend to be individuals, not institutions (or institutions with little experience and many restrictions). No one local individual can foresee all possibilities and prepare for all eventualities; let alone see the social and economic and other benefits of assimilation of migrants as we understand it in the Western or American experience. The priorities, paradigms, and agents of change here are different.

marwan said...

Well said, Bandicoot.

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