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Mon 16 Nov 2009 01:30 PM

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GCC population seen growing to 53m by 2020

Population explosion to continue, region to remain reliant on expat workers - report.

The population explosion in the Gulf region is predicted to continue with a new report seeing it rising by a third in the next decade.

Latest research by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) said the GCC's population was likely to hit 53m by 2020, with the vast majority of people under 25 years old.

"The rapid growth and the relative youth of the population present serious challenges as well as major opportunities," said Jane Kinninmont, author of The GCC in 2020: The Gulf and its People, sponsored by Qatar Financial Centre Authority (QFC).

She added that the continuing population boom would raise "significant questions related to labour and immigration policies, the role of women, and the adequacy of infrastructure and public services".

Kinninmont added: "The GCC has one of the youngest populations in the world, and the future development of the region ultimately depends on the success of efforts to educate and employ these young people.

"We see dramatic changes underway in the structure of the workforce, with an increasing number of educated women now keen to have careers. However, dependence on expatriate labour is likely to continue in the long term."

At a time when populations in the US and Europe are increasingly aging, the EIU said that by 2020, about 24 percent of the GCC population will be under 15, higher than everywhere else in the world apart from Africa.

The report added that the number of women who work will continue to rise, reflecting increasing investment in education for women, changing social attitudes, and newly emerging role models.

"Women already outnumber men in many Gulf universities. Businesses are going to face pressure to adapt the working environment to accommodate childcare needs, but will not necessarily use the same models seen in the West," the EIU said.

It said that net immigration was forecast to remain strongly positive, as the private sector will continue to remain heavily dependent on expatriate labour, despite some efforts to nationalise the workforce.

"The gaps of cost and of skills between nationals and expatriates will gradually narrow, but will not close within the next decade," Kinninmont added.

On the issues related to expat labour forces, she said: "The rising expatriate population will contribute to economic growth and an expanding pool of skilled professionals from overseas should help stimulate further economic diversification.

"At the same time, GCC countries will face questions about how best to manage immigration, as they face competing pressures from groups that want to protect jobs for nationals and others that want more rights for immigrants. The treatment of foreign workers will become an increasingly important aspect of foreign relations with source countries."

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