UAE flatly rejects citizenship for foreign workers

Labour minister rules out expats gaining citizenship after living in Emirates for five years.

The UAE has ruled out any chance of expatriates being awarded citizenship - no matter how long they work in the Emirates.

Labour minister Ali Abdulla Al Kaabi on Wednesday flatly rejected calls to give foreign workers who have lived in the UAE for at least five years the option of applying for citizenship, stating that the contractual agreements they signed to allow them to work in the Emirates do not provide for this.

“Just to make this clear, there is no provision in international law that requires any country to make available citizenship to workers after five years,” added Alex Zalami, international affairs advisor to Al Kaabi, speaking on behalf of the minister.

“That is the whole reason contractual labour laws are used, so workers fall under contractual law rather than immigration law.”

The length of time expatriates can stay in the UAE has become a hot topic following calls to introduce a GCC-wide residency cap on unskilled foreign workers.

Bahrain's labour minister first proposed the cap back in October and it received the backing of the other five GCC members despite widespread anger among expatriates.

A decision on the plan, which would see unskilled labourers restricted to working for no more than six years in any one Gulf state, was expected to be made at this month's GCC summit in Doha, but as yet no announcement has been made.

The Gulf is hugely dependent on foreign workers to drive their booming economies, the vast majority of which are unskilled workers.

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.

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