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Wed 23 Jan 2008 01:48 AM

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Residency cap faces axe

COLOMBO PROCESS: GCC countries bow to pressure from businesses and postpone proposal.

The GCC may scrap its plan to impose a cap on how long semi-skilled and unskilled foreign workers can live in the Gulf, a senior UAE official admitted on Monday.

Pressured by media at a press conference at the Colombo Process in Abu Dhabi, Yousef Abdelghani, assistant undersecretary general at the UAE Ministry of Labour, revealed the controversial proposal "may be discarded".

"The three plus three [residency cap] is only a tool, a process, and is an initiative only discussed within the GCC... it may be discarded," Abdelghani said, without giving a reason as to why.

Asked whether the proposal was be on the agenda, he said: "We have a different community here [at the Colombo Process], bigger players. This is a different venue."

Abdelghani told ArabianBusiness.com earlier on Monday that the residency cap would not be discussed in an interview on the sidelines of the four-day summit on overseas employment and contractual labour.

The remarks are in stark contrast to the full support given to the plan by the UAE and other Gulf states when it was first proposed by Bahrain's labour minister in October last year.

The proposal sparked outrage among expatriate communities and was widely criticised by businesses already struggling to retain staff.

The proposal was due to be approved at December's GCC summit in Doha, but a decision was delayed.

It had been widely expected that the residency cap would feature high on the agenda at the summit, which is being attended by labour ministers from 22 Asian and Middle Eastern countries.

Oman’s labour minister said on Monday that GCC countries had bowed to pressure from businesses to shelve the plan.

"Initially, GCC countries were broadly in favour of a proposed law to impose a six-year residency cap on unskilled foreign workers, but it was proved impractical for the time being,” Juma bin Ali bin Juma told UAE daily Gulf News on the sidelines of the summit.

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