Expatriates occupy a crucial but complicated position within Gulf Arab economies and the broader societies of regional states. In recognition of the benefits associated with a highly skilled and wealthier expatriate population, the United Arab Emirates launched a citizenship scheme and adopted the UAE Strategy for Talent Attraction and Retention in 2021. Dubai and Abu Dhabi also rolled out a number of tailored initiatives to attract remote workers, creative professionals, families of students, and entrepreneurs in the aftermath of the coronavirus pandemic. Oman recently announced plans to design a long-term residency option for expatriates. And Saudi Vision 2030 aims to make Saudi Arabia more attractive for citizens as well as global businesspeople and their families.
Yet Saudi Arabia, Oman, and Kuwait are simultaneously accelerating workforce nationalization initiatives intended to reduce the supply of expatriate workers and free up jobs for locals. A number of Gulf governments have levied expatriate-related fees on businesses and increased living costs for foreign residents. Moreover, poor market conditions in 2020 led to an outflow of lower-skilled expatriates from the region. What is the future for expatriate residents in the Gulf? How should Gulf Arab governments best balance the economic benefits afforded by expatriates against the needs of citizens? Where do the economic interests of expatriates and citizens align, and what are the key areas of tension?