Highly-skilled migrants in the Arab Gulf countries: Exploring the nexus between economic growth and immigration of highly-skilled migrants

By Martin Hvidt
Submitted to Session P4984 (Workers across Borders: Labor, Migration, and Class, 2017 Annual Meeting
Arabian Peninsula;
Gulf Studies;
LCD Projector without Audio;
Highly-skilled migrants in the Arab Gulf countries: Exploring the nexus between economic growth and immigration of highly-skilled migrants.

The migration of highly-skilled persons or ‘high value migrants,’ ‘elite workers’, or ‘knowledge workers’ as they are often referred to, is attracting increasing attention from scholars, practitioners and politicians the world over. This is due to the skills and the entrepreneurial qualities this category of migrants possesses, and thus the positive impact such migrants are expected to have for building or maintaining the competitiveness of a country’s economy.

The Arab Gulf Countries (the GCC countries) host around 24 million migrants, most of them low or medium skilled, but also an estimated 3.6 million highly-skilled migrants. While there is a large and growing body of academic studies dealing with the former category, hardly any studies have been published on the highly-skilled migrants in the Gulf.

This paper seeks to address this shortcoming. It sets out to explore the nexus between economic growth in the Arab Gulf states and immigration of highly-skilled migrants.

The analysis will take its point of departure in the so-called Kafala system which is the broader framework through which migrant flows to the Gulf countries have been managed since the mid-1970s. The analysis will be guided by four research questions distilled from an extensive literature review:

- What is the skills composition of the migrant community, and do they complement or overlap the skills of nationals?
- How are migrants selected to enter the Gulf countries?
- Do the highly-skilled migrants have appropriate incentives to fully contribute to the economy?
- Are active policies related to knowledge transfer in place?

The methodology applied in this paper is critical text reading in combination with interviews and extensive observations originating from a three-year teaching and research experience as professor at a Federal university in UAE.

Two types of conclusions will be drawn from this study. Firstly, specific answers to the research question posted above. Secondly, conclusion related to concepts and theories applied to the study of highly-skilled migrants in the context of the Arab Gulf countries. They challenge e.g. the economic wisdoms embedded in the westernized neo-liberalized notions of the highly-skilled migrant when it comes to issues such as motivation, mobility and expected impact.

This paper is in preparation as a part of the ‘Working Group on highly-skilled migrants: The Gulf and Global Perspectives,’ hosted by Georgetown University, Doha, Qatar.