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Labour migration and the Jordanian labour market

Apr 25,2019 - Last updated at Apr 25,2019

Labour migration from one country to another and from one region to another is based on supply and demand factors. Countries accept skilled and unskilled migrant labour because they are short on labour. People move to work in other countries because of better economic opportunities.

The United States, Russia, Germany, Saudi Arabia and Canada are the top five countries in the world in terms of the number of migrant workers. The number of immigrants in these countries reached about 50 million, 15 million, 14 million, 8 million and 7 million, respectively. However, in terms of percentage of the total population, three of the top five destinations for migrant workers were from the Gulf Cooperation Council, with Qatar at number one, 86.5 per cent of the total population, and the United Arab Emirates at number three, 70 per cent of the population. On the other hand, of the top five emigrating countries, India was number one with more than 15.6 million people working abroad and Mexico was number two with more than 12 million.

Migrant labour is a major source of remittances in the mother country and a key factor for the development of the receiving countries. Despite the outbreak of the global financial crisis and political crises in various countries of the world, remittances from migrant workers still amount to hundreds of billions of US dollars. Most of these remittances reach families of migrant workers in developing countries. It is expected that these remittances will continue to increase to close to $1 trillion in the coming years.

In the case of Jordan, the number of Jordanian expatriates abroad is about 800,000 Jordanians, which constitutes about 11.4 per cent of the total number of Jordanian citizens, most of them in the Gulf states. The most important feature that distinguishes Jordanian workers working abroad is that the majority, 75 per cent, are academically qualified, skilled and specialised. Their remittances amounted to about $3.7 billion in 2018.

On the other hand, Jordan has more than 1.5 million expatriate workers mainly from Egypt, Syria, the Philippines, Bangladesh and some other southeast Asian countries. The most important characteristic of expatriate workers in Jordan is that they are unskilled workers, concentrated in the agriculture, construction and domestic labour sectors. The question that should be answered is; “Has Jordan opened its doors to non-Jordanian workers because it is short on labour?” The obvious answer to this question is a big “No”.

The fact of the matter is that most of the unemployed Jordanian workers, especially in the male category, have no more education than migrant workers. For example, most Egyptian construction workers have entered this sector with no prior experience or vocational training advantage over Jordanians, but because they were willing to accept less decent working conditions than their Jordanian peers. Therefore, replacing these workers with Jordanian workers should be easy, in theory and in practice, provided that certain conditions are met. But first, let us agree on the fact that financial return from these types of work is rewarding. Accordingly, Jordanian workers should be given priority to occupy job opportunities in these sectors. For the government to reduce unemployment rate among Jordanians, decent working conditions in terms of specified working hours and provision for health insurance and social security, as well as public transportation from stations close to the accommodation, to the workplace, should be available.

Many attempts have been made in the past to replace expatriate workers with Jordanian labour, some of which have succeeded and most have not. If we are really serious in tackling youth unemployment, there is a high necessity to revisit this issue again and again from both the government and other stakeholders in the private sector.


The writer is director general of the Association of Banks in Jordan. He contributed this article to The Jordan Times

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