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Hélène Thiollet looks at the transnational dynamics of migration politics in the Gulf since the 1930s

The six Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries are the largest recipients of labour migrants in the world, and are often under intense pressure from INGOs over infringements of those migrant workers' rights. In this working paper Hélène Thiollet takes a historical look at migration management in the Gulf monarchies since the 1930s, describing the dynamics of labour import and immigration policies.

The working paper explores the patterns and politics of migration management at the domestic, regional and international level over time to identify changes and continuity. From the colonial premises to the oil boom of the 1970s, patterns of labour import management were consistent, shaping immigration as temporary and denying foreign workers socio-economic rights. Over time the politics and the economics of migration management evolved, accounting for instance for a shift in the geography of labour import – from Arab migration to Asian migration.

Since the 1990s, however, States and governments have sought to increase their control in the management of migration as migrants’ settlement emerged as a security concern in Gulf societies. Reforms adopted in the wake of the Arab Spring have further illustrated this trend, and Gulf States have implemented a regime based on denying citizenship and political and socio-economic rights to migrants, who are strongly alienated by institutions and practices designed by both States and transnational companies.

Download the working paper