Migrant Indebtedness: Bangladeshis in the GCC Countries

AuthorMd Mizanur Rahman
Date01 December 2015
Published date01 December 2015
Migrant Indebtedness: Bangladeshis in the
GCC Countries
Md Mizanur Rahman*
Labour migration affects family economics in at least two ways: one is the outf‌low of indis-
pensable family resources to meet the expenses incurred in the migration process and the other
is the transfer in cash or kind from migrants to their non-migrating families. This study pri-
marily addresses the former f‌low, that is sources of funds for migration and resulting migrant
indebtedness. Drawing on the experiences of Bangladeshi migrants in the GCC countries, this
study explores the economic cost of migration, the extent of migrant indebtedness, and the
implications of remittances on migrant families. This research exposes the complexity and
multiplicity of the economic costs of migration to the GCC countries and reports that Ban-
gladeshi migration to the Gulf states runs on debt, with migrants and their families indebting
themselves in the migration process.
The oil boom in 1973 led to an extremely rapid increase in the demand for foreign labour in the
six member countries of Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), namely Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait,
Oman, the UAE, and Bahrain. To meet the demand for foreign labour, people from the Maghreb
(Morocco, Tunisia, Libya and Algeria), the Mashreq (Egypt, Jordan, Occupied Palestinian Territo-
ries, Lebanon, Syria and Yemen) and Asian countries (South Asia, Southeast Asia and East Asia)
joined the Gulf labour force since the early 1970s. Foreigners were estimated to be nearly one mil-
lion (10% of total Gulf population) in 1975, around eight million (37% of Gulf population) in
1990 and around 17 million (43% of Gulf population) in 2010 (Fargues, 2011:11). The GCC coun-
tries f‌irst used Arab labour from neighbouring countries but later they diversif‌ied the source coun-
tries to include countries from South Asia, Southeast Asia and East Asia (Arnald and Shah, 1986;
Humphrey, 1991; IOM, 2004).
Asian labour sending countries accounted for more than 63 per cent of the migrant worker stock
in the Gulf states in 1985 (Birks et al., 1988: 268). Currently, Asia is the major human resource-
contributing region for the GCC states (Shah, 2010). For labour-surplus countries in Asia, Gulf
migration has offered an opportunity to send their nationals to the GCC countries for temporary
employment. This temporary migration is a form of circular migration in which migrants seek over-
seas employment under certain restrictive migration policies popularly called kafala systemin the
Gulf countries. The kafala system restricts family reunif‌ication for unskilled migrants, ties them to
a single employer, disallows them from marrying locals, and enforces other restrictions on rights
and movements so that migrants stay as transient workers in the Gulf countries (for details, see
Dito, 2008; Longva, 1999; Shah, 1994, 2008; Esim and Smith, 2004; IOM, 2004, Rahman 2011b).
* Institute of South Asian Studies, NUS, Singapore.
doi: 10.1111/imig.12084
©2013 The Author
International Migration ©2013 IOM
International Migration Vol. 53 (6) 2015
ISSN 0020-7985Published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd.

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