Gulf migration and the Indian community in Saudi Arabia

Essay, 2019
16 Pages, Grade: 3

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Table of Contents


Economy in global context

Migration as a Human Phenomenon

Structural Violence and Indian Community

Theory in Context to Saudi Arabia & the Gulf Region




Recent public discourses indicate that migration is a factor that is likely to undermine the efficacy and sanctity of communities that are affected by inbound migrants. This is an issue that this essay assesses in relation to the response of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf region towards Indian migrants and sees discussions take place concerning the usage of structural and cultural practices that are largely intended to limit or undermine the likelihood of Saudi Arabia as a location of choice for Indian migrants. This essay also identifies that the core issue that lies at the heart of Saudi policy in this area is one that is targeted at the poorer end of the Indian caste system and, with this, an assessment can be made that migration is suitable for ‘certain’ types of people but not others. Indeed, this perspective is further enforced through discussions regarding the potential for investment that a Diaspora makes in their new communities and nations and, again, further links are built in this essay regarding the financial benefits that are both offered and undermined through migration streams and counter streams.

Economy in global context

Migration is not a new phenomenon and, as this essay discusses latterly, processes of globalisation have not increased the act of migrating since it has reduced overall. This is an issue that is pertinent to this essay given that its core focus is the adoption of several structural and cultural policies within the Gulf region and, specifically, Saudi Arabia, towards the influx of Indian migrants to the Kingdom. This essay takes a critical review of the policies and practices that are used within the Saudi Arabia as a way of curtailing Indian migration to Saudi Arabia; indeed, as the narrative progresses it increasingly will become clear that the practices of the Saudi state are targeted towards those members of the lower caste systems whose justification for migrating to the Arabia and wider region are inherently humanistic and in line with previous generations of migrants. Consequentially, this essay discusses the usage of the kafala system and the Dependency tax as tools for limiting recent trends, but also acts as part of an educational process that allows feedback to the home nation, India, to be part of a process that sees the Saudi Arabia as being unwelcoming through the creation of a series of structural systems that limit the freedom of affected peoples.

This essay concludes that Saudi Arabia is increasingly popular for Indian migrants but that the Saudi state has developed policies that seek to limit the potential for a continuation of migrant streams, as well as undermine their ability to integrate and interact with the immediate communities within their new society.

Migration as a Human Phenomenon

King (2013) calculated the numbers of registered or official migrants across the globe and assessed that a stock figure can be developed that sees this cohort amassed as just over two hundred million across the entirely of the international system; this figure, it is estimated, equated to roughly three per cent of the entire global population and, with this, it is also assessed that ninety seven per cent of the global population are not labelled as migrants. Bayliss & Smith (2001) add to this assessment offering that migration levels have increased substantially. Indeed, King (2013) recognises this fact but argues that although this trend began in the 1960s the reality of the matter is tempered by the increase in the overall global population. Here, King (2013) also builds upon earlier assessments by McNeill and Adams (1978) who assert that migration is a fundamental part of the human experience and is a dynamic that is traced back to the distant past; the need to migrate, they argue, is borne of a roving instinct that is inane within human nature but is also one that indicative of nature through the need to prospect for basic needs, i.e. food and resources, as well as the need to explore and conquer (McNeil & Adams, 1978). More recently Castles and Miller (2009: 12) have suggested that the world is experiencing an age of migration and that the current era has experienced a globalised and diversified form of migration that is becoming increasingly politicised. This politicisation issue, for King (2013) is a process that places pressures upon local communities and societies and, as such, the migration issue represents a complex managerial issue.

King (2013) indicates that, numbers aside, the issue of migration is an important one given that there is a propensity for society to be reshaped as a result of an influx of migrants. This is an issue that is discussed in the next section of this essay, which has a specific focus upon the Gulf region, the Gulf Co-operation Council, and the dominant state of Saudi Arabia as a shaper of the regional political narrative (Nicholson, 2006). This focus aside, it is of note that the reshaping of society which King (2013) refers to is akin to a combination of social and systemic developments that allows for the ‘othering’ of migrants. It is via this process, King (2013) argues, where the reshaping of society occurs and where forms of blockages are likely to be created which undermine the potential for migrants to integrate into society, and can lead to prejudice and the creation of scapegoats for a wealth of social ills. This issue aside, there is a second perspective that views migration positively through economic policies. Haas (2010), for example, suggests that there has been an increase in the migration issue in recent years and that this development has extended towards the activities of state and governmental policy makers and academics.

Haas (2010) implies that migration suffered from years of neglect as an academic issue, and where such interest did take place it did so via a perspective that assessed the impact of migration on the home community and society through, for example, the brain drain of the educated leaving their home countries in order to satisfy personal needs and aspirations in other states and countries (Haas, 2010). It is here where the aforementioned optimism of internal and inbound investment is considered as a positive issue and where transnational migrants help to create a wealthy Diaspora population within a second territory (Haas, 2010). That said, the likes of Kapur (2003) and Ratha (20030 suggest that there is a need to create remittance systems that can act as a tool for the creation and advancement of income redistribution, and via poverty reduction progress that are intended to encourage economic growth.

It is these issues that are discussed in greater detail in the next two section, particularly in respect of the imposition of cultural and structural violence at both the social and governmental levels, as well as the conflict between structured economic development via proactive migration policies, particularly where migration can be utilised for expanding the wealth of the (generic) nation.

Structural Violence and Indian Community

Gardner (2010) argues that the Indian community across the Gulf are regularly subjected to forms of structural violence; and this phenomenon is largely caused via inherent racism within the immediate societies of the Gulf, in this case Bahrain. The presence of structural violence of this sort is, Gardner (2010) argues, not limited to the Gulf region and is indicative of social and political dynamics where there is a large migrant community which has relocated purely for economic reasons. The existence of a large migratory Indian community within the Gulf region, Gardner (2011) believes, is not a new phenomenon. He states that Indians have been arriving in the Gulf region since the concretisation of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) as a political organisation and that “tens of millions of individuals from South Asia, West Asia, and other points in the Indian Ocean world” (Gardner, 2011: 3). This trend forms part of a wider social and economic dynamic that although substantial in both longevity and scale, is also part of an area of academia that his largely understudied and, as such, a vacuum exists in respect of this area of interest. It is here where the issue of structural violence and endemic racism is a matter that is of overdue interest.

There are roughly four and a half million Indians within Saudi Arabia (Rao, 2017), and as an attempt to control the numbers of ‘incomers’ to Saudi Arabia, the regime has developed a dependence tax which requires families of Indian descent to pay a monthly fee for each dependent that resides within the Saudi Arabia (Rao, 2017). This process, as described, is indicative of structural violence systems as outlined by Gardner (2010) and to assess this issue in phenomenological terms, one needs to refer to earlier works by Galtung (1969). Galtung (1969) pioneered the concept of the differing forms of violence. These forms, Galtung (1969) suggests, forms part of a tripartite system that creates space for the emergence of structural violence to be concretised within any society. This approach is indicative of the dependence tax, as outlined by Rao (2017) and forms part of a wider approach to difference which, in itself, is ‘encouraged’ by cultural pressures and sentiments. The result of cultural violence, much of which is borne of a more general discriminatory social practice, is the structural element which, for Galtung (1969), normalises the cultural sentiment via state and governmental practices.

Indeed, Galtung (1969: 169) argued that “S tructural violence is a process with ups and downs; cultural violence is an invariant, a permanent, remaining essentially the same for long periods, given the slow transformation of basic culture”. The combination of structural and engrained cultural violence is an issue that Galtung (1969) suggests can lead to direct, or physical violence, and where there is a tendency for these three forms of violence to merge, they do so over divergent time frames, and, as explained by Galtung (1969: 169) they three interact “somewhat like the difference in earthquake theory between the earthquake as an event, the movement of the tectonic plates as a process, and the fault line as a more permanent condition”. The processes that have developed across the Gulf region, as per the discussion, is further concretised via systems such as kafala which is intended to ensure that migrants are sponsored when seeking employment in construction or other unskilled labourer trade sectors (Human Rights Watch, 2008).

The kafala system can be considered as not only a migration led policy but also a class one given that the focus is upon unskilled workers (Human Rights Watch, 2008). The normative programme is based upon construction labourers requiring an in-country sponsor and this is usually the employer of the worker; this same employer is also responsible for visa and legal requirements of the migrant worker’s stay in the country but is viewed as a further example of structural violence aka Galtung (1969) since what does occur is the employer removing passports until all contracted works are undertaken and completed to expectations (Human Rights Watch, 2008). Human Rights Watch (2008) conclude that this administrative process leads to exploitation and slavery, particularly since there is no redress of grievance for the workers, nor is the activities of employer subject to sanction (Human Rights Watch, 2008). What emerges from this additional perspective into the progression of structural constraints, as viewed via the lens of Galtung (1969) allows for a further perspective whereby societal and cultural attitudes creep into the national psyche with the outcome being a core constituent element of the social make up being demonised by those groups that benefit from increased social, economic, and political power. Once this attitude is further concretised and normalised, the possibility of direct, or physical, violence is considered as being acceptable. Lastly, it is it is noted that Galtung (1969) had argued that the processes that are indicative of cultural violence correlate with systemic discrimination and that the state and its decisions are a central factor in that same outcome.

Theory in Context to Saudi Arabia & the Gulf Region

Lee’s (1966) theory of migration was based upon the presence of seven characteristics. In this case the act of migration needs to be selective, and that the population at large needs to be considered in terms of their ability to practice positive selection via the choice of location, as well as a range of additional positive and negative attitudes towards the migration process and destination location (Lee, 1966; UN, 1951). Secondly, the need for arriving at a destination that allows migrants to profit as a result of their endeavour is a necessity in the selection process (Lee, 1966); this particular aspect implies that Saudi Arabia and the wider Gulf region is a choice of location for Indian migrants because it is seen as wealthy and can offer incentives that are not available elsewhere (Voha, 2013). Indeed, the works of Voha (2013) directly correlate with Lee’s (1966) third premise of migration in that the responding correlation of negative factors and the point of origin imply further that it is feasible for blockages to be put in the way to either deter departure from the originating location, or of the choice of destination; in this case the kafala system and the dependence tax (which is specific to the Indian community (Rao, 2017)) could be construed as a negative influencer of choice of destinations for aspirants of the Indian Diaspora. Lee (1966) also argued that the culmination of any present minus factors needed to be sufficiently overwhelming that they were deterrence to entire groups of peoples, and that, with this, the process is not selective by a blanket selective form. The awkward outcome here is the sole targeting of the Indian community and the introduction of a class system that allows system to operate along class and skill set lines, as per the kafala system (Rao, 2017; Human Rights Watch, 2008).

Lee (1966) had also suggested that theories of migration needed to reflect the notion that migrants were acting out in response to a bimodal instinct, namely that not only is there a location that they are ‘rejecting’ but also one that offers the solutions to a predicament and, therefore, is a source of potential ‘relief’ to the ills that they face within the originating society (Lee, 1966). Lee (1966) completes his theory by asserting that there also needs to be a degree of positivity regarding the choice of destination for migrants, but this selection also needs to be related directly to the efficacy of the person who is undertaking the travelling to another country, I.e. the older a migrant the less likely their journey will be fruitful of successful. In this case the life cycle is an important attribute and that there is a greater propensity for younger people to migrate, and where Saudi Arabia is concerned, the creation of a system that not only taxes but also registers and limits personal freedoms is a curtailment of the younger Indian generations heading towards Saudi Arabia and wider Arabian Gulf region. The appraisal of Lee’s (1966) theory against current expectations and realities, particularly in respect of the reception that Indians are likely to receive in the Gulf region, is an issue that Haas (2010) assessed in respect of the potential offered by migrants.

Haas (2010) argues that the phenomenon of migration is one that has experienced a renaissance that is overly optimistic given the possibility that a migrant community may be more likely to invest in their new home regions. This idea is contrary to the experience of Indians in Saudi Arabia, particularly in respect of the lower castes and the likelihood of skills that are brought to the country. Here, it is to be remembered that the kafala system and dependence taxes are intended to deter poorer members of Indian society and, with this, the idea of blanket optimism is a non-sequitur given that these two restrictive policies do little to block richer members of Indian society migrating to the Saudi Kingdom. Building upon this perspective, it is of note that Corden (1984) had believed the availability of lower and reduced taxes and other living costs are factors that encourage migration to particular states or societies. This notion, Corden (1984) argues, is incorrect since what tends to occur is a situation in which migration has a negative impact upon prices and other economic indicators, including inflation. As such, it is arguable that the migration process can have a negative impact upon the economic viability of a target state.

The works of Corden (1984) are of relevance when critically assessing Haas’ (2010) perspective. This perspective, however, needs to be developed in context given that the Saudi and wider Gulf region remains dominated by oil production. Indeed, this is an important aspect of note that Rodriguez (2006) detects and who argues that the region’s governments’ need to undertake acts of self protection that is intended to ensure the perpetuation of a higher level of living standards. In such cases, when the works of Corden (1984), Rodriguez, (2006), Lee (1966) and Haas (2010) are considered in context and unison it is feasible to suggest that the process of counter streams, i.e. systems that are intended to limit or curtail inbound migration, are necessary for states that possess underdeveloped economies which, essentially, remain reliant upon one sole production source. It is here, Lee (1966) argues for the formation of a counter stream is developed and where policies are developed that are intended to curtail the levels and types of migration to a particular jurisdiction, in advancing this perspective, Lee (1966) had argued that the process of migration is largely geared towards a system that utilises defined streams of people, i.e. where people from one country are likely to approach a second country as part of a wider, more generic, approach to immigration, the result of which is a series of highly specific destinations.

Lee (1966) developed his concept of the counter stream for several reasons. The first is the reality that the presence of positive factors will be blurred to the point of disintegration. Indeed, this is the sole purpose of the kafala system and the dependence tax within the Saudi Arabia and, in effect, is intended to deter new generations of Indians to the country. Indeed, given that counter streams are considered to work in two opposing directions, the increased knowledge of a less welcoming environment is an issue that could be considered as helping re-educate any aspirant members of a Diaspora to the point that they seek to migrate elsewhere or, indeed, remain within their home domain (Lee, 1966). Lee (1966) also recognises that the potential for success within the second state is raised where migrants are able to successfully access wealth. The outcome here sees the Diaspora being unwilling to return to their home country and, instead, reside within their new territories. It is this issue, Evans (1998) notes, has become a contentious issue for a number of states and nations, many of which have developed policies that are comparative to the Saudi case study.

Evans (1998) argues that the consequential transfer of a set of disparate peoples between countries tends to occur for a number of reasons. Some of these have already been discussed in this essay and include the need for accessing basic resources as well as other economic benefits, or enhanced security. More recently, however, trends indicate that a combination of political asylum and the acquisition of refugee status is also a factor of note in the migration phenomenon. This issue is of relevance to this essay given the reality of the India caste system, and the ‘escape’ of the poorer and lower caste members to Saudi Arabia. As a further factor of note the practice of migration is also a matter in respect of the prevalence of globalisation and the potential that this process offers to the altering of social conditions and related dynamics (Mullard & Cole, 2007). Indeed, the globalisation is an issue that Mullard & Cole (2007) assert is an overriding issue that undermines the dynamics of the second state given that globalisation directly impacts the domestic culture via homogenisation processes that impact upon consumption, social and personal identity, and in respect of the lifestyle choices of affected societies that incorporate the Diaspora into their communities (Skeldon, 2011).

It is feasible to develop a narrative whereby previous generations of migrants to Saudi Arabia has led to a form of social education within the Indian communities that has extended to the ongoing contacts between the Diaspora and Indian domicile communities (Lee, 1966), with the outcome being the promotion of the target state, in this case Saudi, benefitting from attributed advantages that are not on offer within India. This premise may be based upon basic needs, access to education and skills, or simple wealth acquisition, but, nevertheless, allows for the incorporation of social and economic facets that make returning to their original communities difficult because of the advantages that are on offer via migration to the target nation (Lee, 1966). This process, Lee (1966) asserts, allows for the domestic populous to access knowledge through feedback loops that encourage others to undertake a similar practice. Indeed, this is a practice that the Saudi has increasing become aware of and given the structural and cultural blockages that have been allowed to develop (as discussed earlier in this essay) it is fair to assess that a propensity exists for the dilution and erosion of Saudi as a choice location for lower caste members of Indian society. Indeed, where one considers the dependence tax, Lee (1996) had argued that it was normal for migrants to be latterly accompanied by family members and dependents. The streaming issue, in this case, therefore, can be considered in terms of structural blockages that seek to limit this potential through specific and targeted taxes and employment practices.


In conclusion, when assessing or investigating Gulf migration and the Indian community in Saudi Arabia Economy, and in relation to the wider global context, it is arguable that the current migration trend has been developed not only through processes of globalisation but from feedback loops that allow the domestic communities to gain increased knowledge of a target nation and society. This is an issue that is pertinent to the background of the Indian migration trends towards Saudi Arabia and the Gulf region. However, as this essay asserts, the actualities of migration to this area of the world may not be as fruitful as the social narrative suggests. The imposition of a raft of anti immigration practices and policies within the Saudi Arabia indicate that the state is unwilling to accommodate an influx of Indian migrants, particularly those that are unskilled and, by virtue, are members of the lower castes. This policy platform is intended to act as a counter stream that relates to the dynamics of educational feedback loops and, essentially, is intended to discourage Indians from migrating to Saudi Arabia and the Gulf region.

Yet, as this essay emphasises, actual figures and trends of migration has reduced over the course of time and, with this, it is feasible to develop a latter essay regarding the causation of structural led policies that are intended to limit migration levels. Arguably, such an essay would correlate to political rather than humanistic perspectives. Nevertheless, the reality is that Saudi Arabia is increasingly becoming an unwelcome place for the Indian Diaspora and, with this, through policies including the kafala system and the dependence tax, recent intent would indicate that structures of state are being used to limit migration to the Saudi Arabia.


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Gulf migration and the Indian community in Saudi Arabia
Middlesex University in London
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gulf, indian, saudi, arabia
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Abdullah Alahmari (Author), 2019, Gulf migration and the Indian community in Saudi Arabia, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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