Open main menu

Migrant workers in the United Arab Emirates

Migrant workers in the United Arab Emirates describe the alien foreign workers who have moved to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) for work. As a result of the proximity of the UAE to South Asia and a better economy and job opportunities, most of the migrant foreign workers are from India, Bangladesh, and Pakistan.[1]



In 2013, the UAE had the fifth-largest international migrant stock in the world with 7.8 million migrants (out of a total population of 9.2 million).[2] Migrants, particularly migrant workers, make up a majority (approximately 80%) of the resident population of the UAE, and account for 90% of its workforce.[3] [4][5]


The GCC area is the most popular destination for temporary labor migrants worldwide.[6] The UAE's economy is the largest consumer market in the Middle East and is one of the largest Arab economies, second to Saudi Arabia. Its natural resources made it one of the world’s richest high (high-average income) countries. The economy is supported by the oil and gas reserves that are among the largest worldwide.[7] Immigration of labor, along with natural resources, fuel the UAE economy which is the largest consumer market in the Middle East.[7]


Emiratis receive favorability in employment via the Emiratisation program forcing companies by law to limit the number of migrant workers in a company. This is done for the purposes of stabilizing the labor market and protecting the rights of this group as a minority in their own country. At the same time, however, due to the welfare benefits of the UAE government, many Emiratis are reluctant to take up low paying jobs especially those in the private sector; private sector employers are also generally more inclined to hire overseas temporary workers as they are cheaper and can be retrenched for various reasons, for example, if they go on strike[8][9][10][11] Most UAE locals also prefer government jobs and seek university degrees to gain higher positions.[12]

Alien work permitEdit

The United Arab Emirates has a work visa sponsorship system to issue work permits for foreign alien nationals who wish to migrate for work in the UAE. Most of the visas are sponsored by institutions and companies. A person looking to enter the UAE for work needs to first procure a work permit from the Ministry of Human Resources. The work permit allows the holder to enter the UAE for employment and it is valid for two months from the date of issue. After the employee enters the UAE on the basis for work, the sponsoring company or institution arranges to complete the requirements of medical testing, obtaining Emirates ID card, labor card and stamping the work residency permit on his passport. The work residency permit on the employee's passport denotes that his legal presence for work in the country is provided by the company he is employed by. After this process, the employee can sponsor his family members and bring them into the country. Per Article 1 of Ministerial Decree No. 766 of 2015, an employee whose employment was terminated because of expiry of his contract can get a new work permit when he wishes to join a new employment. The employee may remain in the UAE on a 6 month job seeker visa to find a new job which will legalize his residency status to work in the country for a longer period. A new work permit is also issued if it is determined that the employer has failed to meet the legal and contractual obligations, including but not limited to failure to pay wages for more than 60 days. A worker may request his contract to be terminated after at least 6 months of employment. A worker whose employer terminated him unfairly is entitled to receive a new work permit without the need to complete six months.[13][14]

The right of alien residence and work permit is protected by the UAE Federal law No. 6 of 1973 on the Entry and Residence of aliens.[15] Per UAE law, an employer may not deny an employee on a work visa right to an annual leave, regular paid wage, 45 days maternity leave, right to resign, resign gratuity, and a 30 day grace period to find a new job. An employer is also prohibited by law to confiscate an employee passport, force the employee to pay for his residency visa fees, or force the employee to work more than 8 hours a day or 45 hours a week without compensation. An employee who wishes to leave needs to complete their legal notice period, which is usually 30 days or less, before leaving their job or risk being banned to work in UAE for up to one year.[16] Alien widows or divorced women who's legal presence in the country was sponsored by their husband's work status are given a 1 year visa to stay in the country without the need for a work permit or a sponsor.[17] As of August 2019, the Federal Authority for Identity and Citizenship issued a new family sponsorship policy that permits UAE residents to sponsor dependents based on their income, not their job titles.

[18]Foreign laborEdit

Skill is a measure of the worker's expertise and other related factors. The United Arab Emirates receive many labors from different nationalities and with different skill levels.

Indian, Bangladeshi and Pakistani workers make up 90 percent of the workforce.[19] Population growth in the United Arab Emirates is among the highest in world, mostly due to immigration. In low-skilled and semi-skilled jobs, workers from Asia and the MENA region are employed primarily. In high-skilled sectors are employed experts coming mainly from North America and Europe.[19]

Labor reformsEdit

Reforms to abrogate the sponsorship system have been adopted in order to help prevent unfree labour that have emerged from the exploitation of the work visa sponsorship system. In January 2016, a ministerial decree, the first of its kind in Gulf Cooperation Council countries, was issues in order to protect low-paid migrant workers from becoming forced laborers. It has been criticized by the HRW for the lack of details and possibility of non-applicability to domestic workers.[20]

UAE Domestic Workers Rights BillEdit

In June 2017, the UAE adopted a new bill to bring the country's labor law into consistency with the International Labour Organization's (ILO) Domestic Workers Convention, providing migrant domestic workers with the same labor protections as other workers in the UAE.[21] The bill requires employers to provide domestic workers with accommodation and food and provides them with 30 days of annual paid leave and daily rest of at least 12 hours. It also guarantee 15 days of paid sick leave, 15 days of unpaid sick leave, and compensation for work-related injuries or illnesses.[21] The bill sets out a weekly rest day but permits the employer to make the domestic worker forgo the rest day if paid.[21]

Human rightsEdit

Migrants, mostly of South Asian origin, constitute the majority of the UAE’s workforce[22] and have reportedly been subject to a range of human rights abuses. Workers have sometimes arrived in debt to recruitment agents from home countries and upon arrival were made to sign a new contract in English or Arabic that pays them less than had originally been agreed, although this is illegal under UAE law.[23] Further to this, some categories of workers have had their passports withheld by their employer. This practice, although illegal, is to ensure that workers do not abscond or leave the country on un-permitted trips.[24] Although racial discrimination is prohibited by UAE law, there are some incidents where individuals have been ill-treated on the basis of their nationality or race by employers.[25]

  • In September 2003 the government was criticised by Human Rights Watch for its inaction in addressing the discrimination against Asian workers in the Emirates.[26]
  • In 2004, the United States Department of State has cited widespread instances of blue collar labour abuse in the general context of the United Arab Emirates.[27]
  • The BBC reported in September 2004 that "local newspapers often carry stories of construction workers allegedly not being paid for months on end. They are not allowed to move jobs and if they leave the country to go home they will almost certainly lose the money they say they are owed. The names of the construction companies concerned are not published in the newspapers for fear of offending the often powerful individuals who own them.".[28]
  • In December 2005 the Indian consulate in Dubai submitted a report to the Government of India detailing labour problems faced by Indian expatriates in the emirate. The report highlighted delayed payment of wages, substitution of employment contracts, premature termination of services and excessive working hours as being some of the challenges faced by Indian workers in the city.[29] The consulate also reported that 109 Indian blue collar workers committed suicide in the UAE in 2006.[30]
  • In March 2006, NPR reported that workers "typically live eight to a room, sending home a portion of their salary to their families, whom they don't see for years at a time." Others report that their salary has been withheld to pay back loans, making them little more than indentured servants.[31]
  • In 2007, [32] the falling dollar meant workers were unable to service debts and the incidence of suicides among Indian workers had reportedly been on the increase.

Neha Vora, Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Lafayette College, said the challenges faced by immigrants are not particular to the Gulf region but suggest "broader trends in contemporary global mobility and capitalism.”[33]

Incident of domestic workers abuseEdit

In October 2014, Human Rights Watch estimated that there were 146,000 female migrant domestic workers in the UAE whose work visa was sponsored by employers in the UAE. In an interview with 99 female domestic workers, HRW listed abuses claimed by their interviewees: most had their passports confiscated by their employers; in many cases, wages were not fully paid, overtime (up to 21 hours per day) was required, or food, living conditions or medical treatment was insufficient. 24 had been physically or sexually abused.[34] HRW criticized the UAE government for failing to adequately protect domestic workers from exploitation and abuse and made many recommendations to the UAE, including repeal or amendment of Federal Law No. 6 of 1973 on the Entry and Residence of Foreigners, so that domestic workers can decide on their own to change between employers without losing their immigration status.[34] The UAE introduced Ministerial Decree No. 766 of 2015, which allows a worker to terminate his contract without losing their immigration status if the employer has treated him or her unfairly and be issued a new work permit, or to request the contract to be terminated without losing immigration status and receive a new work permit after at least 6 months of employment provided they have found a new employer.[13]

The act of confiscating passports is illegal and against UAE law.[35]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "Labor Migration in the United Arab Emirates: Challenges and Responses -". Retrieved 2016-06-12.
  2. ^ "Labor Migration in the United Arab Emirates: Challenges and Responses". 2013-09-18. Retrieved 2016-08-26.
  3. ^ Essential Background: Overview of human rights issues in United Arab Emirates (UAE),, 31 December 2005.
  4. ^ Building Towers, Cheating Workers: Exploitation of Migrant Construction Workers in the United Arab Emirates,; accessed 27 October 2015.
  5. ^ "Building Towers, Cheating Workers: Exploitation of Migrant Construction Workers in the United Arab Emirates" (PDF),; accessed 27 October 2015.
  6. ^ "Labor Migration in the United Arab Emirates: Challenges and Responses". 2013-09-18. Retrieved 2016-08-26.
  7. ^ a b "Not Just Petrodollars: The UAE Economy". Retrieved 2019-08-23.
  8. ^ "ManpowerGroup". Retrieved 2015-10-27.
  9. ^ New emiratisation drive Archived 2009-02-03 at the Wayback Machine,; accessed 27 October 2015.
  10. ^ Call for cautious Emiratisation Archived 2009-03-16 at the Wayback Machine,; accessed 27 October 2015.
  11. ^ "Rights group urges UAE not to deport strikers". Retrieved 2015-10-27.
  12. ^ "Emiratisation won't work if people don't want to learn". 2013-03-18. Retrieved 2015-10-27.
  13. ^ a b "Getting a work and residency permit". UAE Government.
  14. ^ "UAE Amnesty 2018: 6-month visa for violators who seek jobs a golden opportunity". Gulf News. 30 Jul 2018.
  15. ^ "United Arab Emirates: Overview: Immigration Law Of The UAE". 2 September 2018.
  16. ^ "UAE Labour Law: 10 facts that you need to know about working in the UAE". Gulf News. 1 May 2019.
  17. ^ "Widows and Divorced Women can now Sponsor Themselves". Gulf News. 22 October 2018.
  18. ^ Tesorero, Angel. "New family sponsorship policy for UAE expats comes into effect". Khaleej Times. Retrieved 2019-08-26.
  19. ^ a b Youha, Froilan T. Malit Jr and Ali Al (2013-09-18). "Labor Migration in the United Arab Emirates: Challenges and Responses". Retrieved 2019-08-23.
  20. ^ "UAE: A Move to Protect Migrant Workers". Human Rights Watch. November 2015. Retrieved 2016-06-12.
  21. ^ a b c Human Rights Watch (2017-06-07). "UAE: Domestic Workers' Rights Bill A Step Forward". Retrieved 15 August 2018.
  22. ^ "Daily Commercial News - UAE workforce includes large number of workers from India, conference told". 2008-06-26. Retrieved 2015-10-27.
  23. ^ "Enforcing Migrant Workers' Rights in the United Arab Emirates". 2008-03-01. Retrieved 2015-10-27.
  24. ^ "Ministry vows to act over 'illegal' passport retention". Retrieved 2015-10-27.
  25. ^ Za, Bassam (2015-08-16). "Man jailed for beating driver who asked him to use seat belt". Retrieved 2015-10-27.
  26. ^ Dubai: Migrant Workers at Risk,, 19 September 2003.
  27. ^ "2004 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices – United Arab Emirates". U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor. Retrieved 27 October 2015.
  28. ^ Julia Wheeler, "Workers' safety queried in Dubai",, 27 September 2004.
  29. ^ "Indian government gets report on problems of Indians in UAE",, 23 December 2005.
  30. ^ "Blood, Sweat and Tears". Al Jazeera English. 15 August 2007. Archived from the original on 10 March 2008. Cite uses deprecated parameter |deadurl= (help)
  31. ^ Ivan Watson, "Dubai Economic Boom Comes at a Price for Workers",, March 8, 2006
  32. ^ "Khabrein - Breaking News, Views, Current Affairs, and Infotainment".
  33. ^ "It Is Time to Stop Misrepresenting What Is Happening to Migrant Workers in the UAE". Retrieved 2016-08-26.
  34. ^ a b "'I Already Bought You' — Abuse and Exploitation of Female Migrant Domestic Workers in the United Arab Emirates (pdf)" (PDF). Human Rights Watch. 2014-10-09. Archived (PDF) from the original on 1 February 2015. Retrieved 2015-02-01. Cite uses deprecated parameter |deadurl= (help)
  35. ^ The National. "Retaining an employee's passport is against the law". Retrieved 15 August 2018.