Challenges of the UAE in Demographic Imbalance


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Prosperity, one of a national interests of the UAE, requires development in all sectors of the UAE. People in the UAE cannot grant the desired prosperity by using local human resources; so development always requires foreign expertise. The number of expats has increased proportionally with the growth of the economy. Even with the growth of UAE national population, the ratio of citizens to non-citizens has severely decreased which caused the imbalance in population. The demographic imbalance has become one of most complex issue to for the UAE which created several challenges that should be addressed.

The development

Economic development since the establishment of the UAEunion caused that the expats to reached to 88 % of the population in 2010. When we compared this figure with the situation in EU, where people can barley tolerate an average share of 6.5 % foreigners plus 9.4 % foreign-born new citizens. In the period from 2005 to 2010, the average growth rate for citizens was about 3% every year while non-national population has increased from 3.3 m to 7.2 m , which confirmed the statistics that says UAE is has the most rapid growth rate in population in the world in the period from 2005 since 1950s.These figures are enough to illustrate how the UAE is a unique case in population imbalance.

Opportunity or threats

Expat labor s are is one of the main tool tools for development that contributes to the accomplishment of construction, development programs, and the establishment of the basic infrastructure necessary for economic development. On the other hand, foreign labors led to numerous negative consequences, some of which being still persistsent. The presence of foreign labor in the UAE has turned from a development tool to a challenge that may be turn into a threat to national security from different aspects. The challenges can be categorize into four aspects: culture, economy, policies, and security.

The impact of demographic imbalance on culture

The presence of more than 200 nationalities who came from different religion, heritage and traditions merged ways of communications among people in the UAE[a1], which interact together daily in a limited area. This leads to the transnational spread of ideas, values and information among people with different cultures, this interaction includes ideologies and believes or even politics[a2].

In 2012, Arab nationalities consisted of 28% of population including citizens, while the Indian and Pakistani nationalities above 50% , which makes the Arabic language it the third in the country after Urdu and English languages. This is true if we assume that all Arabs speak Arabic. Unfortunately, lots of young Emiratis are more comfortable speaking English language instead of their Arabic, they even text each other in English when using communication technology. Furthermore, some elder citizens try to practice it too despite their weakness in speaking English. Moreover, names of residential complexes, streets and shop labels are dominated by foreign names, it witnessed Chinese sometimes. In media, such as radio, programs that presented in other languages are much more than Arabic even though most of them are produced and emitted in the UAE. When comparing the case of the UAE to other countries, countries use only their own languages domestically even if nobody else speaks his language such as Turkey and Korea, so what makes new generation of emaraties abandon their mother language is not only the need of to talk with the majority of the foreign peoplepopulation, but because of the weakness of culture that influenced by foreign cultures which consist not only for language, but for a combination of tradition, customs and values.

Another challenges is the influence of presence of domestic servants. UAE has a high number of domestic workers helpers as domestic helps which came come from other cultures,: the statistics suggested that 96% of Emarati families employ them, those helpers have been converted to many things such as personal servant or nannies. Most of Emirati families rely on them to raise their children from very young age, they leave their kids in a companion of their domestic servants more than the biological family members. The low cost of domestic servant made people more dependent which perform 80% of parental tasks and responsibilities .This impacts the bonds between mothers and children, as the kids are more drawn toward their care taker and they tend to learn various other languages instead of mother tongue. Another recent issue came to UAE culture that UAE ladies are followed by their domestic servants publicly in shopping malls, hospitals, and parks, which reflects the ignorance of these ladies publicly[a3]. The low cost of domestic servant made people more dependent which perform 80% of parental tasks and responsibilities .

The presence of high number of foreign people in UAE caused the creation of a lot of foreign academic institutions locally, the drawback that identifies this case is the threat by these schools which consists of minority of citizen students whom identity may depleted diluted among other identities. Normally, in other countries, foreigners tend to learn the national language for their interest and for the possibility of granting a nationality of hosted country, but in the UAE foreign people insists to preserve their own culture because they understand the difficulty to of getting UAE citizenship so they believe that they would go back to their country at some time to entertain their cultureeventually. Moreover, citizens are who have to[a4]

The challenges of demographic imbalance on Economy

Economy is the main driver for the influx of foreign people to the country. As people welfare is one of the main objective to maintain life prosperity, this welfare needs a strong economy which cannot be existsed without human resources at all levels and specialists. This demand of expats caused this imbalance.

UAE’s economy is expanding according to the strategy of economic diversification. To maintain the economic growth rate, industries create lot of jobs in this market including high skill professionals and law skill worker, both of them usually does not fit citizens. Thus, citizen consists less than 5% in private sector while more than 95% are expats , this figure even exceeded the agreed ratio among labor ministries of GCC which should be less than 20% , which created another challenges that confront political decisions. Even the idea of emiratization in such sectors could not be pragmatic practicle due to the lack of skill that demanded by these industries. Therefore, the, the recruitment of foreigners to fill these opportunity vacancies instead.

The role of foreign people is a vital to maintain the prosperity speciallyespecially for citizens’ welfare, that makes citizens relinquish some of their values to maintain their life prosperitystyle. Foreign people have the right to seek better life too, so by the time, old comers try to upgradeimprove their life style, so they would demand more newcomers to provide welfare for them too, which would add more imbalance to the population. It is a vicious circle.

The majority of the expatriates working are single males from various Asian. Salaries of single staff who working in the country would be repatriated to his home country with very limited material benefit to the UAE. This would impact the UAE economy and would loses opportunities in local human resource investments too. This situation indicates that UAE are beingsuffers from massively financially drainage :; Iin 2014, remittances were more than 140 billion dirhams that transferred abroad, the continuation of this drainage is unhealthy phenomenon for the economy.

Impact of demographic imbalance on policies

The issue of foreign labor in the UAE became a political and global issues. In the context of International Labor Agreements and the implications for international economic systems, Some of these agreements request giving expat workers citizenships which is an evidence of political interface interference under the pressure of NGOs and international community. One of the consequences is the possibility of turning of foreign workers into lobbying powers. In fact, some Asian governments demanded UAE government to review employment agreements for alleged lack of appropriate safety measures in the workplace, this demands attracted more actors around the world such as embassies to put more pressure whether it is true or exaggeration. India has become capable to put pressure on political decision-makers, in favor of this large community. Furthermore, there are some concerns about the possibility of these communities demanding the right to autonomy in case of they become the majority of a specific nationality. The foreign communities in the UAE have even have a second generation of immigrants who could become over time citizens with their own social status. They might turn into political movements that express their thoughts, aspirations and demands.

Other political demands emerge more apparently in the US State Department annual report on human rights. In 2013 the department issued a report included workers rights in several sections. The laws of freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining such as allowing an employer to suspend an employee for striking and low wages. Prohibition of child labor and minimum age for employment and the acceptance condition of work. However, lot of regulation already been set and amended in the ministry of labor such as Wages Protection System (WPS) that set in 2010 and the prohibition of the use of children who used to be Asian or African in camel races. Therefore, this amendment shows the consequences toof the interference of the international organization in regards to foreign workers and shows the desire of the UAE government to develop better situation to people which turned these criticisms into opportunity.

This challenges had opportunities too; several entities related to human rights has been founded including the Human rights department in the ministry of interior and Human rights association in Dubai. These organizations has enhanced the world perception about lot of issues such as children abuse and human trafficking. Furthermore, it developed the judicial system and rebuilt the reputation of the UAE that distorted by some NGOs. In October 2013, the UAE obtained a recognition in the area of human rights. The UAE was first among Arab countries and fourteenth globally on the International Human Rights Rank Indicator (IHRRI), published in 2013 by the Global Network for Rights and Development (GNRD).

Impact of foreign worker on security

The UAE witnessed lots of demonstrations that carried out by expat workers, Asians in particular, demanding to improveimprovement of working conditions. Labor protests resulted in disagreement with some issue in their own country such as the protest in 2007 set by 600 Chinese workers against their recruitment company in Chinea asking that the money they paid should be returned, they marched in Sharjah and blocked some road in the industrialy area. Such as demonstration might become a security threat if it deviateds from peaceful objectives and headed to the destruction of public properties as happened in Ras Alkhaimah in April 2015 when laborers wrecked and set fire to their building site and 17 cars after a worker fell to his death in an apparent suicide which prompted the police to use force to break up demonstration. Another demonstration took place in March 2015 when hundreds of workers from South Asia have staged a rare protest in Dubai ( BCC 2015), they blocked one of the main landmark area in Dubai.

Different expats are is inseparable from conflicts between in their own different countries, which meansmean they may be interact influenced with byany future developments taking place abroad. During the Arab spring, a lot of Arab communities demonstrated their support or opposition to their political actions[a5]. An example of the demonstrations resulted in situations that happened abroad by Syria and Libya, as a result, In 2011, Syrians demonstrated in front of their consulate in Dubai, condemning action of Assad in their homeland. The consequentce of these demonstrations is are not always positive, sometimes it is converted to riot which need to be suppressed by forces.

Some foreign labors involved in organized crime in various forms. UAE security services have succeeded over the years in discovering networks involved in trafficking, jewelry and liquor, perpetrated by expat labor, particularly Asians. More dangerously, some of these elements have proven to have links to some border crossing organized crime groups, such as money laundering, currency counterfeiting, drug trafficking, and other illegal activity. In addition, this increases the expenditure in security sectors to maintain the internal security.

Other challenges of Demographic imbalance

Lot of strategies in the UAE has been adopted or revised by foreign people who contributed to build the country, where the role of citizen was limited in managing and leading the development, this contribution gave the chance for foreign consultant organization to manage most of the economic and strategic plans, and it is notable that most of projects especially real estate projects extensively attracted more foreign companies with different identities.

Institutions and organizations in the UAE have being been developdevelopingeding continuously. Government sectors which used to comprise of citizens is inflated yearly to absorb the requirements of other sectors that exponentially increase. There are a lot of organizations that have been under pressure to fulfill population demand. General directorate of residency and foreigners affairs is one of the departments that suffer from the imbalance, it is one of organizations that should inflate in accordance [a6]with population . population. Municipalities is another organization that suffered from this imbalance, the requirement of them increasing every year not for the interest of citizens, but for the high number of expats. The high population of foreign people put more pressure on water and energy sectors, and so on for all other services sectors. It is admitted that foreigners are who helped to develop the civilization infrastucture of the country but the surge in development did not allow enough time to observe on cultural identity in the civilized environment, as cited by Dubai municipality .

Another challenge resulted in this imbalance is in the structure of the security forces organization in the UAE which was were originally designed for the population of the UAE, but with the presence of high population such the double expats in 5 years from 2005-2010, this put lots of burden on security services which mainly comprise of minority of citizens, especially when the number of expats is fluctuating as a result of any global or domestic issue.


Expats in the UAE have greatly contributed to the economic growth including, infrastructure, transportation and domestic needs, as well as raising living standards of nationals, education, and health and social care. However, the rapid development has to trade off several aspects of culture, security and policies. An equilibrium is needed to meet the standard requirement of the UAE and the presence of people to prioritize requirement and to maintain a steady growth to the country to balance the cost-benefit of expats.

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Ahmed Almualla