Millions of expatriate workers could face being kicked out of the Gulf if plans proposed by Bahrain are passed at the next GCC summit in December.
The kingdom will put forward a motion at the meeting in Doha to place a six-year residency cap on all expatriates working in the region in an effort to stop what it sees as the erosion of local culture and to stem soaring unemployment among nationals.
The cap could force many of the 13 million or so expatriates currently living in the GCC to return home, a significant proportion of whom have brought up families in the Gulf and now consider the region their home.
“The majority of foreign manpower in the region comes from different cultural and social backgrounds that cannot assimilate or adapt to the local cultures,” said Bahrain Labour Minister Majeed Al-Alawi, UAE daily Gulf News reported on Monday.
“In some areas of the Gulf, you can’t tell whether you are in an Arab Muslim country or in an Asian district. We can’t call this diversity and no nation on earth could accept the erosion of its culture on its own land,” he added.
Al-Alawi said he was "optimistic" the proposal will be approved at the summit.
The six countries that make up the GCC – the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar, Oman and Kuwait – are hugely dependent on foreign workers to drive their booming economies, for everything from manual labour to company executives.
As a result, in many Gulf Arab countries expatriates now significantly outnumber nationals.
According to statistics quoted by newswire AFP, there are around 35 million people living in the GCC, of whom 37% are foreign workers.
Expatriates account for around 80% of the population of Qatar and the UAE, while in Kuwait it is roughly 60% and in Bahrain it is about 40%, according to statistics compiled by Human Rights Watch.
Saudi Arabia – which accounts for around 75% of the total GCC population - and Oman have the lowest number of foreign workers relative to the size of their populations, standing at around 33% and 25% respectively, Human Rights Watch said.
However, even in Saudi Arabia and Oman the percentage of expatriates that make up the country’s workforce is much higher.
All GGC member states are attempting to reduce their reliance on expatriates, to varying degrees of success, through schemes designed to encourage nationals into the workplace and by setting quotas on the number of nationals a company must employ.
However, the move being advocated by Bahrain is the most extreme measure yet proposed to tackle the looming unemployment crisis among nationals.
The unemployment among Saudis currently stands at 11%, while in Bahrain it is just below 4%, with around 20,000 of its citizens jobless.
In the UAE, a study by Sharjah University last year found that 32.6% of Emirati men, and 47.7% of women, are not in work.