It would be difficult to naturalise the large numbers of expatriates working in the six Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states, a senior Saudi Arabian official has said.
There are nearly 12 million expatriates in the six GCC states including Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain, Oman, Kuwait and the UAE, and their number is increasing at the rate of five per cent annually and expected to reach 18 million in 12 years.
The GCC labour ministers proposed restriction on the stay of expatriate workers to six years only because of fears that they would demand naturalisation and rights equal to GCC citizens, Saudi Labour Minister Ghazi Al-Gosaibi said.
"Such a restriction will not be required if there is no such demand by the expats. But if they seek naturalisation, government will have to put the restrictions. In the present situation their stay would not be restricted to six years," Gosaibi was quoted as saying in 'Arab News'.
The GCC summit, which was held in Abu Dhabi last month, did not approve the proposal, but summit leaders did not reject it either.
"This is a precautionary measure... We don't have any objection to allowing expatriates to stay as long as they and their sponsors wanted. There is no problem in principle.
But problems started when there were demands for naturalisation and providing them with the same rights of GCC citizens," he said.
"The expats have come for a specific purpose and not as immigrants. Unlike the United States and Europe, workers here come not as immigrants but on specific contracts to carry out specific works," Gosaibi said. GCC countries fear that naturalisation would have economic, social, demographic, political and security consequences.
"The Gulf has become a unique region where foreign workers outnumber local populations," Bahraini Minister of Labour Majeed Ibn Mohsen Al-Alawi said, noting that the ratio differs from country to country and varies from 60 to 90 per cent. Gosaibi warned against the demographic danger posed by expatriates in the GCC.
"We have made the proposal fixing six years as the maximum period of stay for expatriates in order to deal with the demographic threat," he said.
Gosaibi said the government decided to reduce foreign recruitment as part of a strategy to create more job opportunities for Saudis.
"This is not a new decision taken by the Labour Ministry. It is based on proposals made during the past 25 years," he added.