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Lessons from the Gulf for migration policies in OECD countries

Geoff Riley

18th July 2018

At a time when fights over migration are dividing rich countries and fracturing their politics, a study published in the Economic Journal sheds light on a ‘path not taken’.

The analysis by Microsoft and Yale economist Glen Weyl compares the migration policies of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries – such as Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates – with those adopted by OECD countries.

GCC migration policies have been sharply criticised by human rights groups because migrant workers (mainly from South Asia) often live in harsh conditions and are subject to racial discrimination. But Weyl highlights a key benefit of the GCC system over the OECD model: the former can admit massively more migrants than the latter. By doing so, they do much more per capita to reduce global inequality than OECD countries.

OECD countries typically have roughly one migrant for every ten natives, while some GCC countries nearly reverse this ratio. While life for these migrants can be challenging and rife with abuse, South Asians regularly queue up for a chance to work in the GCC because they typically multiply their income by five times when they work in the Gulf, sending much of this income back to their impoverished families. In some areas of Bangladesh, for example, a majority of income comes from remittances from the Gulf.

Because these migrants are much poorer than the poorest people living in OECD or GCC countries, these GCC policies have significantly reduced global inequality and poverty. Weyl suggests that the potential for improving global equality would be far greater if OECD countries adopted similar policies.

Geoff Riley

Geoff Riley FRSA has been teaching Economics for over thirty years. He has over twenty years experience as Head of Economics at leading schools. He writes extensively and is a contributor and presenter on CPD conferences in the UK and overseas.

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