Gulf expats forced to leave for home as pandemic impacts jobs

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After working for more than 15 years as a legal advisor at a private firm in Kuwait, Egyptian Hassan Ebrahim has recently returned home. “I had no other choice other than having my salary cut by up to 40 per cent, which I found too much,” said the father of four. “I decided to leave after securing all my financial rights and return to my family especially as the economic damage caused by the coronavirus has left no sector intact,” the 58-year-old Egyptian added. “The virus is radically impacting expats in the Gulf.”

Ebrahim is among tens of thousands of foreign workers who have left the Gulf countries permanently for home countries as some Gulf states revive plans to replace foreigners with nationals in the labour market.

As many as 11,921 expatriates have left Kuwait, mainly for Egypt and India, in just two days this week aboard a flurry of repatriation flights. In a similar vein, over 7,300 Filipinos from the UAE have flown home since April.

Foreign nationals make up the majority of the population in the GCC countries mainly in Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain and the UAE, according to the International Labour Organisation (ILO). In Saudi Arabia, the biggest Gulf country, foreigners account for about 10.5 million of the country’s overall 34.8 million population. Expatriates in the GCC states account for over 10 per cent of all migrants globally, while Saudi Arabia and the UAE host respectively the third and fifth largest migrant populations in the world, the ILO says. Migrant workers have long been part and parcel of the Gulf and its vibrant economies.