First with Financial Comment from Arabia

New Bahrain visa rules not friendly to some GCC expatriates

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Bahrain has changed its visa rules to make it mandatory for low-level expatriates from other GCC countries to obtain a visa in advance before entering the country.

The move appears to be aimed at stemming a possible tide of unemployed workers from Saudi Arabia crossing the causeway looking for work in Bahrain. But it is the latest action that is unfriendly to expatriates who are still essential to this country’s economy.

Long-term expats

Only last week a familiar refrain from the Labour Ministry warned that Gulf countries risked being taken over in the long run if they did not focus on developing their own national talent. Bahrain has also been behind suggestions that GCC expatriates should be limited to a maximum six-month stay, ignoring the obvious value of long-term expats to any business.

Visas will still be available at the border for GCC residents with professional status on their residency visas, from managers to bankers, doctors and engineers and their families. Previously all holders of valid GCC residency permits received automatic on-arrival visas.

Bahrain is already among the poorest of the GCC countries, and has fallen behind cities like Doha and Dubai in the recent oil boom. Ironically ‘Business friendly Bahrain’ was a big sponsor of the World Economic Forum in Davos this year.

Yet you have to practice what you preach. Expatriate labour is vital to most businesses in the Gulf where the local skill sets are just not up to the standards demanded by global business whose job is not to act as a training and employment agency but to make money in a highly competitive world.

Training investment

Bahrain should be keeping its doors open while investing more money in training its own nationals to compete on a level playing field with labour from other countries. The simple loss of productivity involved in advancing nationals to the detriment of expatriates cannot be afforded by one of the least well off Gulf nations.

Indeed, if Bahrain persists in this approach then it is going to lose even more business to other cities in the Gulf with a more liberal and tolerant approach to expatriates. It will not be the Gulf that suffers from an expatriate takeover, but Bahrain that suffers an exodus of expatriates and damage to its fragile economy if this is kept up.

For the winners of the future in the Arabian Gulf will be those countries who embrace the best of modernity and train their nationals, not countries who make irreplaceable workers unwelcome. Or is the intention to replace low-level expatriates with Bahrainis and leave the expatriate managers to run things?


Written by Peter Cooper

February 11, 2010 at 10:14 am

Posted in Aviation, Banking, Travel

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