Migration and the Qatari Identity
WHILE QATAR HAS LONG BEEN ON THE PATH TOWARDS A KNOWLEDGE-BASED ECONOMY, CURRENT CIRCUMSTANCES HAVE SHRUNK DEADLINES AND PRECIPITATED A SENSE OF URGENCY. ACROSS THE COUNTRY, IN BOARDROOMS AND MAJLISES, SOME UNCOMFORTABLE YET NECESSARY CONVERSATIONS ARE TAKING PLACE. AT QATARTODAY, WE WANTED TO REKINDLE DISCOURSE ON ONE SUCH TOPIC – MIGRATION AND THE QATARI IDENTITY.
From a sociologist's point of view, Qatar (and a couple of other GCC countries with similar population profiles) must make for a fascinating study. Its migration model, population demographics and social structures have no precedent or comparison anywhere else in the world or from any other time in history. In these nation states, foreigners dramatically outnumber the indigenous, traditionally homogenous population who are experiencing swift and substantial changes to their societies. Which is why the country's policymakers grapple with some unique challenges that will require home-grown, customised solutions. We speak to three academics who elaborate on the critical considerations that factor into migration policies in Qatar, how sustainable the current path is and the difficult aspects of this equation that are blocking muchneeded reforms.
Transience is the norm; anything more is accidental
When crafting a strategy for the future of a country, it isn't exactly ideal to not be able to predict what the strength of the population will be ten years on, especially when the population is small. Would a financial/political/military crisis result in a drastic drop in numbers in Qatar, even to the tune of 90%? This is obviously a gross exaggeration but it shows how migration trends are difficult to predict and can undo even the best-laid plans, especially in a region as dynamic and volatile as ours.
The concern about over-reliance on people who are here temporarily, and that too for such critical parts of the economy, is ever-present in the minds of leaders, although it might not be expressed as obviously. Policymakers, especially, tend to look at this from crisis mode, through the lens of paranoia and panic, says Dr Zahra Babar, Associate Director for Research at the Center for International and Regional Studies, Georgetown University School of Foreign Service in Qatar. And there is an understanding, she continues, that given the demographic patterns, Qatar will continue to need people to occupy certain categories of the labour market (namely, the 3D jobs – dirty, dangerous or demanding), and this can't be helped. “But what could change is the climate on attracting and retaining globalised professionals,” she says.
It's no secret that Qatar hopes to shift the way the different groups of migrants (low, semi and highly skilled) are representative of the population. “While low-skilled migrants now make up the majority, in the long run, when most of the major projects and infrastructure constructions are completed, the demand for this type