8 hours ago

DUBAI (AFP) — Bahrain wants a six-year residency cap on the millions of expatriates working in the Gulf who it says are eroding the national character of states in the region, a newspaper reported on Monday.

"The majority of foreign manpower in the region comes from different cultural and social backgrounds that cannot assimilate or adapt to the local cultures," Bahrain's Labour Minister Majeed al-Alawi told Gulf News.

Alawi said he was optimistic the proposal would be adopted by the Gulf Cooperation Council during its annual summit planned for December in the Qatari capital Doha.

The six-members of the pro-Western GCC are home to a population of 35 million, of whom about 13 million, or 37 percent, are foreign workers.

The workers come mainly from the Asian sub-continent and are relied upon heavily to drive the booming economies of the oil-rich bloc.

The GCC consists of the conservative Muslim Arab states of Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates and Oman.

"In some areas of the Gulf, you can't tell whether you are in an Arab Muslim country or in an Asian district," Alawi said in an interview with the English-language daily.

"We can't call this diversity and no nation on earth could accept the erosion of its culture on its own land," he added.

He also said the residency cap would mean that "no foreign worker would be hired for a position that can be filled by a national," adding that businesses in the GCC should reduce their reliance on expatriate labour.

Unemployment amongst nationals is a serious concern for GCC governments. In February, the Financial Times said unemployment in Saudi Arabia had risen from 9.7 percent to 12 percent since 2002.

Alawi also said the region's 'sponsorship' system should be scrapped and replaced with government control of visas and work permits that would protect the rights of expatriate workers.

"Violations of their human and financial rights must not be tolerated at any level," Alawi said.

The system, a set of regulations that limits workers' movements and hands power to their employers, is in place in all GCC states but is decried by rights bodies as akin to slavery.

Under the system, employers have the right to sack foreign staff and prevent them from seeking other jobs in the same country unless they meet a set of tough conditions.