Oman and its five economic partners in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) must remove obstacles for expatriate workers and allow them to move freely to transfer their skills and boost business growth.
At the moment, expat workers face problems when they want to move from one GCC state to another. Each country has its own laws and restrictions imposed on migration. One of the biggest obstacles is for expats, who wish to transfer their business investments or open a branch in another GCC country. Expat workers also face barriers when their sponsors want to transfer them to another GCC country because labour rules are not compatible.
Oman and its GCC partners need to encourage workers to move to where they can find jobs or set up trade. Expats also find it baffling when their qualifications are only recognised in some GCC countries, but rejected by the rest. For Oman and the GCC to become a true single market, labour requirements must be standardised for non-nationals.
GCC nationals enjoy all the job and investment facilities available in each other’s countries. However, the same facilities are out of reach for resident expatriates.
With oil prices showing no signs of recovering from their former levels, mobility within GCC countries will boost inter-trade growth. Labour mobility will also stop illegal and abusive treatment of expatriate workers. It will improve the human rights record of the six GCC countries when a unified standard is used throughout the region to protect them. A free movement of workers across the borders will also reduce exploitation when workers have a choice.
Labour mobility will help address shortages and plug in the skills gap within GCC. For example, some countries in GCC face a huge challenge to find nationals to fill up vacancies in the retail sectors. Expats within the region can plug in these holes more quickly and economically. Regional knowledge is also important since it takes a long time for someone with no GCC experience to familiarise with the local ways. Expats help widen the scope of services and improve competitiveness when they move freely in the regional countries.
From the economic point of view, it will help solve labour shortages within GCC member states and contribute to a more efficient distribution of human resources. All GCC countries have one thing in common. They need foreign workers in important sectors, such as construction, manufacturing, retail, oil and gas.
GCC policies aim to find a match between the needs of employers and job seekers. They find it difficult to get nationals to work on certain jobs, even with the current high unemployment rate. Finding the right experience to fulfil certain positions has always been a priority for employers since GCC has a youthful population. Matching experience and the pool of job seekers has been a challenge and an obstacle for business improvement. Making expats move within the GCC bloc much more easily will address this inherent problem.
There are critics who would say GCC needs to safeguard the jobs of its nationals by restricting inter-migration of expats. However, the true picture is that, in situations where many nationals are choosy what they pick for employment, employers can easily plug in the holes by getting expats from neighbouring countries. GCC can put in place safeguards to reserve job allocations for their nationals in some positions, mainly office-based. Historically, GCC countries have had trouble convincing their nationals to work as plumbers, electricians or carpenters.
The regional states have always argued for greater closure of their borders and greater control over entry and participation within their societies. This perhaps was true in the past, but current economic hardships require greater participation with global societies. For free trade and economic development, the labour movement can work well to increase foreign investments and inter-change of trade with the GCC bloc.
In conclusion, the open border theory needs to be implemented, not just for GCC nationals, but for residents as well, for greater economic integration.