Zahra Babar of the Centre for International and Regional Studies delivering a lecture at GU-Q.
DOHA: A demographic shift in favour of cheaper labour force from Asian countries has significantly reduced the share of non-GCC Arab expatriates in Qatar’s growing population, according to an expert at the Centre for International and Regional Studies (CIRS) at Georgetown University Qatar (GU-Q).
Arab migrant workers used to account for 70 percent of the population in Qatar in the 1970s, but their share has dropped to less than 20 percent today, said Zahra Babar, Associate Director for Research at CIRS, while delivering a lecture at GU-Q recently.
The lecture ‘Working for the neighbours: Arab migrants in Qatar’ was hosted by the CIRS as part of its Monthly Dialogue Series.
Babar dealt with Qatar’s recent population boom, with a focus on non-GCC Arabs in the workforce, and the economic factors that contributed to the shifting demographic balance of migrant workers.
“The migrant population in the Gulf in general and in Qatar in particular, has increased significantly over the past few decades,” said Babar in reference to statistics showing Qatar’s population tripling to two million since the 1990s.
“And although we all are aware of this large demographic presence of foreigners in Qatar, surprisingly enough, we actually do not know very much about them: where they’re from, where they’re working, and how they’re integrated into the labour market,” she added.
Babar explained how the issue of nationality guides her research because it is an integral component in understanding the issue of migrant labour, impacting salary structures, benefits and prospects.
“Nationality has a strong correlation with how one is integrated into Qatar’s labour market,” she explained.
Citing figures obtained from the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs, Babar said that the non-GCC Arab expatriates in Qatar now constitute only 13 percent of the workforce.
The explanation for this downward trend in Arab workers, Babar argued, is simple economics. For GCC states rushing to employ workers in the early days of the burgeoning energy industry, employing workers from neighbouring Arab countries made sense, given the shared cultural and linguistic connections.
Over time, however, expanding numbers of non-working dependents meant Arab workers’ wages were not economically competitive, resulting in a shift to cheaper labour that could keep pace with the increasingly globalised and developed hydrocarbon industry.
Babar said, “In Qatar, the state and society are extremely concerned about the demographic imbalance and the increasing presence of foreigners outnumbering them, and so really what they are looking for is to have their labour market needs met without any incremental increase to the population.”