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2020 Census: New jobs, complete count efforts and MENA

2020 Census: New jobs, complete count efforts and MENA


Posted on November 23, 2019, Hassan Abbas in his 2020 Census: New jobs, complete count efforts and MENA, predicted that for the US 2020 Census, the MENA populations of the US that might not be distinguishable from the wide spectrum of ethnicities could perhaps be eligible for employment, all within the framework of this census.

The image above is strictly for illustration only.


DETROIT — In a Wednesday teleconference, leaders from the U.S. Census Bureau briefed media outlets that serve the Middle Eastern/North African (MENA) communities on the status of the 2020 Census, describing the efforts underway for all people to be accurately counted and the opportunity for individuals to apply for temporary jobs supporting the operation.

The U.S. Constitution mandates that a census of the population be conducted every 10 years. Census Bureau population statistics inform how billions of dollars in federal funds are allocated for critical public services like hospitals and healthcare clinics, emergency response, schools and education, and roads and bridges. 

2020 Census: New jobs, complete count efforts and MENA
An attendee at a 2020 Census kick-off event in Dearborn reads in the informational booklet. The U.S. Census Bureau is ramping up its efforts to reach out to ethnic communities to work towards a complete and accurate count. Photo: Imad Mohamad/The Arab American News HomeLocal

The 2020 Census will also determine how many seats each state gets in Congress and guide the drawing of local political boundaries. In mid-March 2021, households will receive an invitation to participate in the census with an option to respond online, by mail or by phone. 

“We are working closely with state and local governments, the business community, civic organizations, nonprofits and the faith community to accomplish our goal of counting everyone, including young children and babies,” said Marilyn A. Sanders, Chicago regional director for the U.S. Census Bureau.

Sanders underscored that census responses are confidential and protected by law.

“We do not share your information with law enforcement agencies or immigration officials,” she said.

Sanders also provided an update on the recruiting for the 2020 Census operation, emphasizing the importance of hiring census workers to work in the communities in which they live.

“We are offering competitive pay, flexible schedules and the opportunity for individuals to make a difference in their own communities for the next 10 years,” she said. 

Individuals interested in working on the 2020 Census should visit www.2020census.gov/jobs.

With a team of multicultural audience experts advising on campaign messaging and strategy, VMLY&R is the marketing communications partner for the 2020 Census. VMLY&R Strategy Director Basem Hassan explained his marketing campaign’s research process and insights.

“We are relying heavily on trusted voices in the MENA community to help ensure everyone understands what is at stake in the 2020 Census,” he said.

The Census Bureau officials were joined at the briefing by Nada Al-Hanooti, executive director of the Michigan office of Emgage, and Rima Meroueh, director of advocacy and community engagement at ACCESS, who addressed why the MENA communities should fully participate in the 2020 Census. 

Al-Hanooti also encouraged Arab Americans to apply as census takers to help build confidence in the operation among the community.

No inclusion of MENA category on the census form

After the conference, The Arab American News reached out to Hassan to discuss a MENA-related census issue that has come under recent criticisms. The new census form will not include a separate MENA category, despite decades-long calls to change the bureau’s policy. 

As of now, respondents will have to pick between two racial categories, White or Black, and then include their country of origin or the country of origin they choose to identify with. 

Hassan said that in his nationwide research of MENA communities, he found this racial categorization to be a criticism and not necessarily a barrier to MENA populations engaging with the census. 

The bureau conducted research in 2015 into the inclusion of a separate “Middle Eastern or North African”  category and found including such a tick box would in fact “helps MENA respondents to more accurately report their MENA identities” and that it was optimal to use a dedicated MENA response category. 

Despite these findings, the bureau did not take on MENA as a category. Hassan cautioned that this omission should not be construed as an under-representation of MENA in census data. 

Census Sample

Race question on the 2020 Census form. Middle Eastern and North African respondents will be asked to pick a race and then include country of origin or ethnicity.

“The instruction for MENA, because we are so diverse, is to select the ethnicity that we most identify with,” he said. “When one writes their country of origin, the bureau has a way of tracking that back to a MENA category.”

“If we as a community come out en masse and be counted, it can only help,” he added. “If we’re not present and counted, it will be harder to demand that we be a tick box on future census forms.”

More information on a complete and accurate count of MENA on the 2020 Census will be released in an FAQ supplement in the coming weeks. For now, the country of origin subcategory under the race tick box is critical towards the MENA count. 

The census in Dearborn 

The Dearborn community came together at a Census 2020 kick-off event at the Ford Community and Performing Arts Center on Wednesday. 

Dearborn’s Economic and Community Development Department Deputy Director Hassan Sheik spoke along with Dearborn Mayor Jack O’Reilly, Zaineb Hussain from Wayne United and Linda Clark, a representative from the U.S. Census Bureau. 

Speakers stressed the importance of a complete count in Dearborn, helping the mayor and Wayne County achieve this count, and the importance of informing the community of the confidentiality of census data. 

Wayne County residents can apply to be census takers or field representatives, both of which are hourly jobs, or salaried regional technicians. 

Links for application for these jobs are:

Census taker: https://jobs.mitalent.org/job-seeker/job-details/6749805

Field representative: https://www.census.gov/about/census-careers/opportunities/positions/region-field/field-representative/CHIRO-FR-001.html

Regional Technician: https://www.usajobs.gov/GetJob/ViewDetails/550947000

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Chicagoans with MENA roots feel erased by census

Chicagoans with MENA roots feel erased by census

White? Asian? African? Chicagoans with Middle Eastern and North African roots feel erased by census.

Local groups say it’s essential for people to participate even if they don’t see a racial/ethnic category on the form that fits them.

By Alexis Kwan and City Bureau@city_bureau

Chicagoans with MENA roots feel erased by census
Arab American Family Services cofounders Nareman Taha and Itedal Shalabi in their office in suburban Worth.
MAX HERMAN

On a hot Saturday in August, the parking lot of the Middle Eastern Immigrant and Refugee Alliance in West Ridge is filled with the sound of festivities. Kids jump in a bouncy house, Arabic pop music blares on the speakers, and a group of aunties chat as they watch over their charges. The organization, formerly known as the Iraqi Mutual Aid Society, hosts this yearly event as a way to connect the families they serve with the rest of the immigrant community.

Children gather round a foldable plastic table with a tawula set, playing a Turkish version of backgammon popular throughout the Middle East. Among them is Asal Alshammari, 11, who lives in West Ridge with her grandparents and sister. She immigrated to America with the rest of her Iraqi family after living in Dubai for nine years. Since moving to Chicago, Alshammari has been puzzled by the way Americans categorize race. “I identify myself as Middle Eastern, but [on school forms] it says I’m white, and that’s kind of confusing,” she says.

Sometimes she’ll even whip out her smartphone to show other kids at school exactly where Iraq is located: western Asia. “If someone says, ‘Oh, you’re white,’ I tell them ‘No, I’m Asian.’ But they’re always like, ‘What? You don’t seem Asian,’ because I have blue eyes from my grandpa,” she says. Alshammari wishes there were a box that was a better fit for people from countries like Iraq, Syria, and Libya, and she’s not alone.

As the 2020 U.S. Census approaches, local groups are working to ensure there’s an accurate count of their communities. But the census has never included any racial or ethnic category for Middle Eastern or North African communities. That, along with the current climate of fear surrounding immigration status, is a big challenge for folks hoping a full census count can help the community build political representation and gain access to crucial social services.

More than 20 years ago, when the federal government made major changes to the way race and ethnicity are reported on official forms, the U.S. Office of Management and Budget recommended additional testing on a category that would be called Middle Eastern North African, or MENA. Without a MENA option on the form, people from this region usually chose the white category, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2015 Race and Ethnicity Analysis.

Chicagoans with MENA roots feel erased by census
Ekram Hanna of the Iraqi Mutual Aid Society
MAX HERMAN

In a 2015 community forum held by census officials to discuss the MENA category, participants indicated that “MENA responses should not be classified as White. They thought classifying this group as White makes them invisible in the data, even though they face discrimination in many aspects of society.”

With the support of advocacy groups like the Arab American Institute, the census bureau began testing a potential MENA category addition in 2015, and in 2017 released preliminary results that stated, “The use of a distinct Middle Eastern or North African category appears to elicit higher quality data for people who would identify with MENA.”

Despite all this, the bureau announced in 2018 that a MENA category would not be included in the 2020 census, claiming that “more research and testing is needed” since some in the MENA community felt that the designation should be treated as an ethnicity rather than a race.

“Some of us identify as white, some as Brown, some as Black,” says Maya Berry, executive director of the Arab American Institute. “We don’t necessarily need a category that reduces us to one race, but we do need visibility, inclusion, and to be seen as a group of Americans with needs and not just the focus of counterterrorism programs or political bigotry.”

With the decision made, local groups serving MENA residents in the Chicago region are now focused on ensuring that their community participates, period.

An accurate count is essential, they say, since census numbers determine the allocation of funding for services like cultural diversity training for institutions that interact with the community. Though federal funding formulas are complex, a George Washington University study in 2018 estimated that for every Illinois resident not counted, the state would lose $840 in Medicaid funding.

Chicagoans with MENA roots feel erased by census
Fouzia Othman works with a client at the Arab American Family Services office. Case managers help community members with translating mail, applying for WIC and SNAP benefits, immigration paperwork, and other needs.
MAX HERMAN

In Cook County, where an estimated 100,000 residents are of Middle Eastern, North African, or Southwest Asian descent according to a Los Angeles Times analysis, outreach efforts are beginning. It won’t be easy, says Imelda Salazar, an organizer for the Southwest Organizing Project, noting that many MENA residents are descended from immigrants or are immigrants themselves. Salazar says outreach to immigrants in general is difficult given the Trump administration’s policies, including increased restrictions on who can seek asylum and the executive order restricting entry of foreign nationals from some Muslim-majority countries.

“We give a lot of know-your-rights trainings and we tell people, Do not open the door [for Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents],” she says, which makes it hard to allay their anxiety about opening the door for census workers. To try to dissipate these fears, SWOP precedes many of its workshops with a conversation about current deportation and detention issues and then talks about the legally mandated confidentiality of U.S. Census data. Salazar emphasizes that “fear won’t take us anywhere” and that if “we really want to build power, we need to be counted.”

Distrust of the federal government is particularly salient in the sizable Arab American community of Bridgeview, a southwest suburb. In the 2018 documentary The Feeling of Being Watched, Bridgeview native Assia Boundaoui uncovered evidence that Muslim residents were under FBI surveillance as far back as 1985 as part of a counterintelligence effort known as Operation Vulgar Betrayal.

With Trump administration policies like the public charge rule and the Muslim ban, some people have become wary even of receiving public benefits, according to Nareman Taha, cofounder of Arab American Family Services, a nonprofit social service agency in the southwest suburbs. They’re afraid the government is collecting their personal information through the institutions that dole out benefits.

“Clients would come and say, ‘Close my file. I don’t want anything from the government. I don’t want food stamps. I don’t want medical cards,'” she says. “And these are people who are working poor, they’re eligible. . . . Imagine that detriment and the impact that had on families.”

Chicagoans with MENA roots feel erased by census
Samir Alomar at the Festival on Devon in September. Alomar, who performs classical Arabic music and is originally from Syria, came to Chicago’s West Ridge community two years ago after spending four years in a refugee camp in Turkey with his family.
MAX HERMAN

To counteract that fear, groups like AAFS are relying on the relationships and trust built over years working within communities.

AAFS founded the Arab American Complete Count Committee, which meets at their office, and they are local members of the national Yalla Count Me In campaign—both are aimed at increasing census participation. AAFS is asking people to mark the “other” box on the form and write in “Arab” or their country of origin, in the hopes that when the Census Bureau reevaluates the MENA category there will be evidence to support its inclusion. Other groups, like the Arab American Action Network, say they have not yet decided what to recommend; they’re planning more conversations with community and national partners before making a decision.

Though race and ethnicity data in the census are rarely tied directly to federal funding, local organizations say that if the data were available, it could help them raise money from other sources and draw publicity for their work.

When Hatem Abudayyeh of the Arab American Action Network raises funds for the group’s work to protect youth against discrimination in schools, he says government representatives and donors will ask questions like, “What are the academic levels? How do they do in school? What are their literacy rates?”

“We were in a coalition with Black and Latino organizations, and they all had these stats about how Black and Latino kids were being suspended and expelled from school at much higher rates than whites for the same alleged activities,” he explains. “And we didn’t have any numbers for the Arab kids, even though anecdotally we knew that those things were happening to Arabs as well.”

Taha, at AAFS, says most of their funds come from state government, corporations, foundations, and private donors. The group has been encouraging local universities and other nonprofits to collect data using the MENA category to help them make the case for the services they provide, like domestic violence prevention and immigration legal consultation. One funder, the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority, did just that, adding a MENA category to collect better health data statewide.

Some organizations rely on their own surveys or draw noncensus data from sources like Chicago Public Schools. CPS conducts an annual survey asking what languages are spoken in students’ homes, and Arabic was the third-most common non-English language in 2019, preceded only by Spanish and Cantonese, according to data City Bureau received through a public records request.

Laura Youngberg says the census category gets at “the bigger issue of, how does a community define itself and how the families define themselves.”
MAX HERMAN

Laura Youngberg, the executive director of the Middle Eastern Immigrant and Refugee Alliance, says her group was able to use CPS data to advocate for federal and state grants that support its youth and family services. “It’s a battle of like going back to the state and saying, your data is wrong,” she says. “This is the correct data [from the school district]. This is why we deserve to have funding.”

The census category gets at “the bigger issue of, how does a community define itself and how the families define themselves,” Youngberg says. Better data around MENA communities could improve language access for Arabic-speaking people, increase visibility and political representation, and contribute to a larger sense of belonging.

Beyond the census, Taha wants to push for the MENA category at the state level, asking newly elected governor J.B. Pritzker, “How would you recognize the Arab American community? I mean, you came to us when you needed our votes.” Now, more than ever, her community needs to be counted.   

Sarah Conway contributed reporting.

This report was produced by City Bureau, a civic journalism lab based in Woodlawn. Learn more and get involved at citybureau.org.

More from Chicago Reader: NewscensusimmigrationMiddle Eastern and North AfricanMENAwhiteIraqSyriaLibya

NB: The top picture is of The Arab Weekly that touched on the subject of How significant is rejection of MENA category from the 2020 US census? back in March 2018. MENA-Forum published many articles on how immigrant populations are treated in their host countries.

Mutual Necessity Relationship between the Gulf  and India

Mutual Necessity Relationship between the Gulf and India

In the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda, stories on Migration and Workforce and Employment abound. This one on India‘s record-breaking diaspora is the latest. It is doubly interesting because of a) the significant presence of more than 8 million NRIs (non-resident Indians) in the Gulf and b) it is reflective of a mutual necessity relationship between the Gulf and India.

In 2019, remittance flows to low- and middle-income countries are expected to reach $550 billion, becoming their largest source of external financing. ‘Indians abroad sent back $80 billion, making the country the leading recipient of funds from overseas.’ Per Image above: REUTERS/Pawan Kumar.

Katharine Rooney, Senior Writer, Formative Content, the Indian diaspora elsewhere seem to be not that dissimilar to that of the GCC’s.

Excerpts of the WEF article:

India’s record-breaking diaspora in numbers

When Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi visits the United States, he is among compatriots – 4.4 million of them.

India has the largest diaspora in the world, with around 18 million of its citizens living in other countries. The US is their top destination: in 2017, people of Indian descent made up 1.3% of the American population, and they are the most successful immigrants in the country.

As economist Nirvikar Singh says in an interview with the University of California Santa Cruz, “Indian entrepreneurship is a very important engine of economic growth.” The co-author of a book on the Indian diaspora in the US notes that 8% of the founders of high-tech companies are Indian. With Sundar Pichai running Google and Satya Nadella the CEO of Microsoft, Indians play a prominent role in some of America’s biggest tech firms.

Indian-Americans watch Narendra Modi in Madison Square Gardens in New York. The US is a key destination for Indian emigrants.
Image: Reuters/Lucas Jackson

Economic factors lure large numbers of Indians to the Persian Gulf, particularly the United Arab Emirates (UAE), which is home to 3.1 million Indians. The number of Indians living in the UAE and other countries in the region such as Saudi Arabia and Oman increased fourfold in the space of a decade, from 2 million in 2005 to more than 8 million in 2015.

It’s a numbers game

Despite a sizeable outflow, India is still home to 1.39 billion people – and by 2027, it’s set to overtake China as the world’s most populous country. While there has been progress in reducing extreme poverty levels, there are still 176 million people living in poverty in India, and money remitted by expatriates is an important part of economic development and growth. In 2018, Indians abroad sent back $80 billion, making the country the leading recipient of funds from overseas.


According to the Reserve Bank of India, inward remittances helped to finance 43% of the country’s trade deficit in 2017-18. They also help to meet the needs of the poor by covering the cost of daily living expenses and allowing people to invest in business and education.

Countries with the largest diasporas – India has the world’s biggest, with nearly 18 million people living abroad.
Twenty countries or areas of origin with the largest diaspora populations (millions) Image: UNDESA

The ever-changing direction of migration

With a significant spike in emigration since 2015, India has overtaken other countries that once represented significant migrant populations – many escaping political upheaval or conflict.

But there has been a huge jump in migration from Syria, with more than 5.6 million fleeing the country since war broke out in 201, and a steady rise in the number of people leaving Pakistan, where the government has encouraged outward migration as a way to combat unemployment, reduce poverty and earn foreign exchange through remittances.

Migration Explore the latest strategic trends, research and analysis This article is part of the India Economic Summit

Become a Member or Partner to participate in the Forum’s year-round annual and regional events. Contact WEF now.

Why the Middle East Is More Combustible Than Ever

Why the Middle East Is More Combustible Than Ever

Robert Malley in this article titled The Unwanted Wars published in September / October 2019 of Foreign Affairs gives some answers to this question that has been marauding everyone for millennia. Why the Middle East Is More Combustible Than Ever, would, sarcasm apart, be a good start to try to understand the multi-layered mess of all past and passing powers. Here are some excerpts of the article.

Why the Middle East Is More Combustible Than Ever
Rifles and rifts: Houthi rebels in Sanaa, Yemen, December 2018 Hani Al-Ansi / Picture Alliance / dpa / AP Images

The war that now looms largest is a war nobody apparently wants. During his presidential campaign, Donald Trump railed against the United States’ entanglement in Middle Eastern wars, and since assuming office, he has not changed his tune. Iran has no interest in a wide-ranging conflict that it knows it could not win. Israel is satisfied with calibrated operations in Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, and Gaza but fears a larger confrontation that could expose it to thousands of rockets. Saudi Arabia is determined to push back against Iran, but without confronting it militarily. Yet the conditions for an all-out war in the Middle East are riper than at any time in recent memory. 

A conflict could break out in any one of a number of places for any one of a number of reasons. Consider the September 14 attack on Saudi oil facilities: it could theoretically have been perpetrated by the Houthis, a Yemeni rebel group, as part of their war with the kingdom; by Iran, as a response to debilitating U.S. sanctions; or by an Iranian-backed Shiite militia in Iraq. If Washington decided to take military action against Tehran, this could in turn prompt Iranian retaliation against the United States’ Gulf allies, an attack by Hezbollah on Israel, or a Shiite militia operation against U.S. personnel in Iraq. Likewise, Israeli operations against Iranian allies anywhere in the Middle East could trigger a regionwide chain reaction. Because any development anywhere in the region can have ripple effects everywhere, narrowly containing a crisis is fast becoming an exercise in futility. 

When it comes to the Middle East, Tip O’Neill, the storied Democratic politician, had it backward: all politics—especially local politics—is international. In Yemen, a war pitting the Houthis, until not long ago a relatively unexceptional rebel group, against a debilitated central government in the region’s poorest nation, one whose prior internal conflicts barely caught the world’s notice, has become a focal point for the Iranian-Saudi rivalry. It has also become a possible trigger for deeper U.S. military involvement. The Syrian regime’s repression of a popular uprising, far more brutal than prior crackdowns but hardly the first in the region’s or even Syria’s modern history, morphed into an international confrontation drawing in a dozen countries. It has resulted in the largest number of Russians ever killed by the United States and has thrust both Russia and Turkey and Iran and Israel to the brink of war. Internal strife in Libya sucked in not just Egypt, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) but also Russia and the United States.

There is a principal explanation for such risks. The Middle East has become the world’s most polarized region and, paradoxically, its most integrated. That combination—along with weak state structures, powerful nonstate actors, and multiple transitions occurring almost simultaneously—also makes the Middle East the world’s most volatile region. It further means that as long as its regional posture remains as it is, the United States will be just one poorly timed or dangerously aimed Houthi drone strike, or one particularly effective Israeli operation against a Shiite militia, away from its next costly regional entanglement. Ultimately, the question is not chiefly whether the United States should disengage from the region. It is how it should choose to engage: diplomatically or militarily, by exacerbating divides or mitigating them, and by aligning itself fully with one side or seeking to achieve a sort of balance.

ACT LOCALLY, THINK REGIONALLY

The story of the contemporary Middle East is one of a succession of rifts, each new one sitting atop its precursors, some taking momentary precedence over others, none ever truly or fully resolved. Today, the three most important rifts—between Israel and its foes, between Iran and Saudi Arabia, and between competing Sunni blocs—intersect in dangerous and potentially explosive ways.

Israel’s current adversaries are chiefly represented by the so-called axis of resistance: Iran, Hezbollah, Hamas, and, although presently otherwise occupied, Syria. The struggle is playing out in the traditional arenas of the West Bank and Gaza but also in Syria, where Israel routinely strikes Iranian forces and Iranian-affiliated groups; in cyberspace; in Lebanon, where Israel faces the heavily armed, Iranian-backed Hezbollah; and even in Iraq, where Israel has reportedly begun to target Iranian allies. The absence of most Arab states from this frontline makes it less prominent but no less dangerous.

Why the Middle East Is More Combustible Than Ever
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu near the Syrian border in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, March 2019 Ronen Zvulun / Reuters

For those Arab states, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been nudged to the sidelines by the two other battles. Saudi Arabia prioritizes its rivalry with Iran. Both countries exploit the Shiite-Sunni rift to mobilize their respective constituencies but are in reality moved by power politics, a tug of war for regional influence unfolding in Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, Yemen, and the Gulf states.

Finally, there is the Sunni-Sunni rift, with Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE vying with Qatar and Turkey. As Hussein Agha and I wrote in The New Yorker in March, this is the more momentous, if least covered, of the divides, with both supremacy over the Sunni world and the role of political Islam at stake. Whether in Egypt, Libya, Syria, Tunisia, or as far afield as Sudan, this competition will largely define the region’s future. 

Together with the region’s polarization is a lack of effective communication, which makes things ever more perilous. There is no meaningful channel between Iran and Israel, no official one between Iran and Saudi Arabia, and little real diplomacy beyond rhetorical jousting between the rival Sunni blocs.

Read more on the original document.

5 steps to reshape economic geography and rejuvenate the MENA

5 steps to reshape economic geography and rejuvenate the MENA

The Brookings’ FUTURE DEVELOPMENT elaborated these 5 steps to reshape economic geography and rejuvenate the MENA this Friday, September 20, 2019, as a demonstration that it is possible to do so. The story is by Somik V. Lall and Ayah Mahgoub. Here it is.

5 steps to reshape economic geography and rejuvenate the Middle East and North Africa

The destinies of people in the Middle East and North Africa are shaped more by accidents of where they were born than in any other part of the world (Figure 1). This is considered a problem by governments in the region, and it should be. They have tried many ways to respond to the needs of people in lagging areas; much money has been spent on investment in these places. Thus, to add jobs in poorer areas, policymakers have tried to strong-arm new production facilities into these areas. To meet the need for decent homes and amenities in poor urban neighborhoods, money has been poured into massive housing projects.

People shop for food in Djemaa El Fna square in Marrakesh July 8, 2010. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson (MOROCCO – Tags: SOCIETY TRAVEL) – GM1E67L0L0U01

Even so, spatial disparities continue to grow, or are closing more slowly than would be expected given the volume of investment directed to these locations. The main reason: the causes of spatial exclusion are not locational and physical but are economic and institutional.

Figure 1: With a few exceptions such as Jordan, spatial inequality is higher in MENA

With a few exceptions such as Jordan, spatial inequality is higher in MENA

WHY IS MENA SO FRAGMENTED?

Why is territorial convergence so difficult? In a report that we just completed at the World Bank, we identified four reasons.

  1. Most lagging areas in MENA have not been able to leverage the full returns to their endowments because the business environment and infrastructure in their cities and towns makes it hard for new firms to start and grow (Figure 2). One reason is that outside the capital city in MENA countries, smaller cities invariably lack the authority to raise their own revenues and to manage local service provision.
  2. Most residents in lagging areas are “stuck in place,” unable to take full advantage of jobs that more vibrant urban economies offer. Credentialist education systems may be most to blame for making people immobile.
  3. In leading areas, rigid and outdated regulations distort land markets and stymie development. For example, regulations in Tunisia prohibit residential buildings more than three stories high, and regulations in Jordan impose a minimum lot size of 100 square meters—restricting the supply of affordable formal housing.
  4. MENA’s governments have created formidable obstacles to trade and migration. The main barriers are limits on news and information and practical constraints on travel and trade (visa difficulties, weak infrastructure, logistics hurdles).

Figure 2: It’s tough for firms outside MENA’s capital cities

Figure 2: It’s tough for firms outside MENA’s capital cities

Notice that while they result in spatial inequalities of opportunity, the reasons for fragmentation are not themselves spatial.

ENGINEERING A CONVERGENCE MACHINE

Increasing the pace of integration and convergence will require fixing these problems. Governments in the region can reduce territorial disparities quickly and effectively by doing five things:

  1. Strengthen coordination and complementarities across initiatives. Development strategies are more likely to succeed if they are multidimensional, including access to energy, transport, land, and markets—in the same place, whether sequentially or concurrently. A good place to start is by anchoring investments in and around cities. Complementary reforms that help get the prices right—for energy and for land—can go a long way in creating the conditions for job creation in lagging areas. The good news is that governments don’t have to pay more to see better results, because spatial coordination will generate cost savings in the medium to longer term.
  2. Redistribute roles and responsibilities across tiers of government. Citizens in different parts of the country have varying needs, and local conditions require flexible service delivery models. Redistributing responsibilities for local revenue generation and local service provision to local governments can make them better equipped and more accountable.
  3. Enable mobility of people between lagging and leading areas. On average, people in MENA are half as mobile domestically as people in other parts of the world (Figure 3). Our research shows that living standards of people moving internally to major cities can increase by an average of 37 percent in the region. Women are more likely to move and find jobs in urban areas, but they need support to do so. Education systems across the region need to be reoriented toward marketable skills.
  4. Build dense and connected cities. Well-functioning cities offer a wide variety of jobs—for women and men. Making land markets in cities more efficient is critical for agglomeration and specialization—two dynamics that enhance job creation and economic prosperity. Whether in larger or in smaller (secondary) cities, agglomeration and specialization require the benefits from high economic density, which concentrates economic activity geographically. For this, the fabric of cities needs to be spatially connected, dense with people, and transit-oriented—not sprawling that perpetuates the dispersion of people and jobs. Planners and regulators can attract firms to invest in cities by reducing frictions such as zoning regulations, impediments to property acquisition and new construction (costs, height limits, density limits), challenges to local business registration and licensing, limits on news and information, and obstacles to developing local business networks.
  5. Enhance market access nationally and regionally. Historically, MENA’s cities were part of economically important global trade networks. Many of these cities persisted into modern times as large urban areas. But governments in the region have managed to shrink the networks from global to local. These networks have, at a minimum, to be expanded to national and regional dimensions. A good place to start would be to improve the links across national borders—reducing tariffs, improving logistics, and facilitating trade, and instituting migration protocols. Such efforts will grow the economies, providing much-needed resources to redistribute in areas left behind.

Figure 3: Just 14 percent of MENA’s people have left their place of birth, compared with 28 percent in countries elsewhere

Just 14 percent of MENA’s people have left their place of birth, compared with 28 percent in countries elsewhere

In other words, MENA’s governments have to start putting together a modern convergence machine. The main parts of the machine are institutions that integrate and infrastructure that connects. MENA is no longer a poor place: Last year, the region’s GDP per capita was nearly $7,000 placing it comfortably in upper middle-income levels. Its people should have access to quality basic services such as education, clinics, sanitation, and public security. Well-chosen infrastructure initiatives—roads, railways, ports and communication facilities—can provide its entrepreneurs access to the region’s sizeable markets (the region’s GDP is $3 trillion) and even bigger nearby markets to MENA’s north and east. Spatially targeted interventions might also be needed, but they are not the main components of the machine.

Perhaps the biggest mistake that governments have been making is to regard these interventions—programs to push economic activity into lagging areas while simultaneously favoring capital cities—as the mainstay of the machine. It’s time to stop these self-defeating measures that exacerbate fragmentation in MENA, and speed up efforts to engineer integration.

Authors:

  • Somik V. Lall, Global Lead on Territorial Development Solutions and Lead Economist for Sustainable Development in Middle East and North Africa – World Bank. somikcities
  • Ayah Mahgoub, Senior Urban Development Specialist – World Bank
Saudisation, job cuts leading to Deportation

Saudisation, job cuts leading to Deportation

Dhaka Tribune published on September 19th, 2019, this story on Saudization, job cuts leading to deportation of Bangladeshi workers by Kohinur Khyum Tithila that is definitely worth reading.

Saudi Arabian authorities opted some time ago for the whole and/or part nationalisation of its 9 million-strong manpower, kickstarted and still is going through a programme labelled Saudisation that recently ended up by excluding non-domestic contracting of governments jobs.

Saudisation, job cuts leading to Deportation
160 Bangladeshi workers have returned from Saudi Arabia yesterday amidst a crackdown on undocumented workers in the kingdom Syed Zakir Hossain/Dhaka Tribune

On September 16, Jahangeer was deported to Bangladesh along with other Bangladeshi workers.

Jahangeer Hossain was heading to his factory along with other workers in a vehicle around 7:30 am in Riyadh on September 2 like every other day.

Soon, a police patrol car blocked their vehicle and detained them. It never occurred to him even in his dreams that he would be then kept at a Deportation Camp in the Saudi Arabian capital for 15 days without any knowledge of the future.

On September 16, Jahangeer was deported to Bangladesh along with other Bangladeshi workers.

“I had a valid Iqama [work permit for foreign nationals] in Saudi Arabia. It’s still valid for three more months. I have no idea why I was arrested and sent back home,” said the man, who is currently at his village home in Jhenaidah.

He told Dhaka Tribune that about 120 to 150 people were kept in each room at the Deportation Camp.

Jahangeer has no idea how he is going to provide for his family now. On top of that, he still has to pay back Tk1 lakh (more than GB£945) he had taken in loans to travel to Saudi Arabia.

Jahangeer said he could not even ask the Riyadh police why he was being held because he was afraid of getting beaten.

He said an official of the Bangladesh Embassy in Saudi Arabia visited the Deportation Camp, but he said he was not authorized to talk to them.

A total of 389 Bangladeshi workers like Jahangeer were sent back home by Saudi Arabia Arabian authorities in last three days following a crackdown on undocumented workers there.

Of them, 160 arrived in Dhaka on Tuesday night. Most of them complained that they were forced to return despite having valid documents.

What govt says

Government official and experts say the number of migrants is way more than the number of jobs over there, and the recent Saudization policy, officially known as Saudi nationalization scheme or Nitaqat, has led layoffs of Bangladeshi migrant workers.

Rownak Jahan, secretary of the Expatriates’ Welfare and Overseas Employment Ministry, told Dhaka Tribune: “We have asked the Bangladesh Embassy to Saudi Arabia to look into it.

“We will be able to comment after they give us a report on it. Our minister is also visiting Saudi Arabia. He will discuss this issue.”

She said migration does not remain static and recently Saudi Arabia is being very strict about undocumented migrants.

She told Dhaka tribune that more people are migrating to countries like Saudi Arabia for jobs. There are more jobseekers than vacancies, she said and added that sometimes migrants have valid papers but there are no jobs for them.

The Saudization policy of hiring Saudi nationals over migrant workers could be another reason because of which Bangladeshi migrants’ job contracts are not being renewed, the secretary added. 

She said every country has its own law and other countries cannot intervene in their internal issues.  

13,000 deported in 2019 alone

Shariful Hasan, the head of Brac’s Migration Program, told Dhaka Tribune that at least 13,000 Bangladeshi workers have so far been deported from Saudi Arabia in 2019 alone.

Some recruiting agencies and brokers are luring migrants saying they can go to Saudi Arabia with “free visa,” but there is no such thing, he said.

Shariful said the recruiting agencies and brokers are still sending people abroad without ensuring a secured job because the more they can send, the more money they will make.

As per the law, migrant workers are not allowed to work under any employer they want. They have to work under the employer they signed a contract with. If they leave the job and work under another employer, they will become undocumented.

Shariful recommended solving the problem bilaterally.

“Our embassy should ask the Saudi Arabian government why they are deporting Bangladeshi migrants [even though they had valid documents], and then they can work on the solution based on their response,” he said.

Marina Sultana, program director of Refugee and Migratory Movements Research Unit, said many Bangladeshi workers in Malaysia are not being regularized and as a result, they are being deported.

She also pointed finger at Saudization for the layoffs and eventual deportation of the migrant workers. 

According to a Saudi Press Agency report, the Saudi authorities have so far arrested around 3.8 million foreigners as it continues the crackdown on labour and residency violations.

The latest figures indicate that 544,521 people have been arrested since early June.

Bahrain tops region for expat living

Bahrain tops region for expat living

The MENA’s Gulf area is home, though temporarily to numerous people from around the world, with nationals being a minority for decades now.  All the neighbouring countries to Bahrain rely heavily on this imported manpower to not only get things done but mainly to keep the respective economies going. Life and above all its quality aspect, therefore of the various expat communities in the different countries does, unlike in the recent past, account for much in the socio-political stratosphere of the various work environments. And, Bahrain tops region for expat living.

However, while the populations in the area are recently noticed to be somewhat slowing, especially if compared to the boom years that started around the early 2000s, there are varying differences in the communities’ growths. But that’s a different story.

Bahrain remains the best place for expatriates to work and live in the Middle East, even as it dropped to the seventh place globally from being on top of the list last year in the InterNations Expat Insider survey. 

With more than 20,000 respondents, it is one of the most extensive surveys about living and working abroad, sharing insights into expat life in 64 destinations. The survey offers in-depth information about expats’ satisfaction with the quality of life, ease of settling in, working life, personal finance, cost of living, and family life in their respective country of residence. 

Despite Bahrain losing ground in terms of working abroad and family life, expats are still generally happy with both aspects of life abroad. They also keep finding it easy to settle in this country, the survey said.  

Taiwan, Vietnam, and Portugal are the best expat destinations: all of them attract expats with their ease of settling in and good personal finances. While expats in Taiwan and Portugal are also extremely satisfied with the quality of life, those in Vietnam appreciate their great work life.  

At the other bottom of the ranking, Kuwait (64th out of 64), Italy, and Nigeria are the worst destinations for expats in 2019. While Kuwait is the country where expats find it hardest to settle in, Italy offers the worst work-life, and Nigeria the worst quality of life in the world, the study found, it said. 

After a first place in the Expat Insider survey in 2018 and 2017, Bahrain loses six places in 2019 (7thout of 64). These results may be affected by its sudden drop of 17 places in the Working Abroad Index(from 1st to 18th).  While Bahrain is still in the top 10 countries for career prospects and job satisfaction (10th), expats seem to be less satisfied with their working hours (3rd in 2018 to 27th in 2019) and their job security (5th to 19th). In fact, 62% are happy with the state of the economy, which is just about the global average (63%). Expat parents are also slightly less happy, ranking Bahrain 13th out of 36 countries in the Family LifeIndex (vs. 7th out of 50 countries in 2018). Still, more than nine in ten parents (93%) rate the friendly attitude towards families with children positively (vs. 81% globally), and expats keep having no issues with settling in in their new country (2nd): more than four in five respondents (82%) say it is easy to settle down in Bahrain (vs. 59% globally). They find it easy to make friends (68% vs. 54% globally) and to live in the country without speaking the local language (94% vs. 45% globally). 

Taiwan: Coming first out of 64 countries and territories in the Expat Insider 2019 survey, Taiwan stands out for its great quality of life (3rd place). Taiwan is rated best in the world for the affordability of healthcare, with almost nine in ten respondents (89%) satisfied with this factor (vs. 55% globally). Expats in Taiwan are also happy with the quality of medical care (92% vs. 65% globally) and their personal safety (96%vs. 81% globally). In addition to that, 78% agree that it easy to settle down there (vs. 59% globally), and88% find the locals generally friendly (vs. 68% globally). 

Vietnam: After ranking 14th out of 68 destinations in 2018, Vietnam is voted the second-best country for expats in 2019. Expats there are particularly happy with their career prospects (68% satisfied vs. 55% globally)and their jobs in general (74% satisfied vs. 64% globally). However, Vietnam is not only the highest ranking country when it comes to working abroad, it is also the best destination for personal finance(1st out of 64). In fact, 81% of expats are happy with their financial situation (vs. 64% worldwide), and75% state that their disposable household income is more than they need to cover daily costs (vs. 49%globally). 

Portugal: According to the Expat Insider 2019 survey, Portugal offers an excellent quality of life (1st worldwide) and a “relaxed lifestyle”, as a British expat highlights. It is one of the world’s best countries for leisure options (2nd): more than four in five expats (83%) are happy with the socializing and leisure activities available to them (vs. 65% globally), and almost every expat (95%) rates the climate and weather positively (vs. 61% globally). Moreover, Portugal ranks among the top 5 expat destinations where it is easy to settle in for the third year in a row (4th in 2019).

TradeArabia News Service
Gulf wealth: all that glitters is not gold

Gulf wealth: all that glitters is not gold

Gulf wealth: all that glitters is not gold

Gulf wealth: all that glitters is not gold. Little suggests that fabulously wealthy Gulf states and their Middle Eastern and North African beneficiaries have recognized what is perhaps the most important lesson of this year’s popular uprisings in Algeria and Sudan and the 2011 Arab revolts: All that glitters is not gold.

Gulf wealth: All that glitters is not gold

by James M. Dorsey, Sep 5

Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and to a lesser extent Kuwait have in the last decade invested billions of dollars in either reversing or hollowing out the revolts’ achievements in a bid to ensure that political change elsewhere in the region does not come to haunt them.

Qatar, in a counterintuitive strategy that has earned it the ire of the rulers of Saudi Arabia and the UAE, has sought to achieve the same goal by attempting to be on the right side of the region’s forces of change.

The irony is that both approaches, despite also involving huge investments at home in economic diversification, education, and healthcare, could produce the very result Gulf states seek to avoid: a region that has many of the trappings of 21st century knowledge states but that is incapable of catering to the aspirations of a youth bulge expected to annually increase the work force by a million people over the next 12 years.

UNICEF, the United Nations Children’s Fund, concluded earlier this year, that the region’s youth bulge was a double-edged sword. It could either pose a threat to regional stability or be an asset for development.

Turning the youth bulge into an asset “requires urgent and significant investment to create opportunities for meaningful learning, social engagement and work, all of which are currently limited, particularly for young women and the most vulnerable,” the UN agency said in a report entitled MENA (Middle East and North Africa) Generation 2030.

UNICEF arrived at its conclusion even though Gulf states have adopted grandiose plans that envision them becoming within a matter of a decade or two diversified, knowledge-driven economies that enact the social reforms needed to create opportunity for all segments of society.

The group’s conclusion applies as much to the wealthy Gulf states as it does to the Arab beneficiaries of their politically motivated financial largesse.

The problems with the flexing of the Gulf states’ financial muscle as well as the implementation of reform plans are multi-fold.

They relate as much to quality of the upgrading of services such as education as they are about how political intent shapes development efforts and how high domestic debt in countries like Egypt, where 27 percent of government expenditure goes to interest payments, and Lebanon, which spends 38 percent of its budget on debt servicing, benefits Gulf banks and stymies social and economic development.

Credit rating agency Fitch recently downgraded Lebanon’s credit rating to CCC from B- because of “intensifying pressure on Lebanon’s financing model and increasing risks to the government’s debt servicing capacity.”

Gulf scholar Rohan Advani notes that Gulf institutions account for most of the financial sector investment in countries like Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Iraq, Tunisia, Libya, Syria, and Yemen.

“In Lebanon, just over 50 percent of the country’s bank assets are held by GCC-related banks, in Palestine this figure is 63 per cent, and in Jordan it is as high as 86 percent,” Mr. Advani wrote in a review of political economist Adam Hanieh’s study of Gulf finance, Money, Markets, and Monarchies.

Mr Hanieh argues that the bulk of the debt payments are to financial establishments whose major shareholders include Gulf institutions in a process in which “the Arab state…increasingly mediates the transfer of national wealth to large Gulf-related banks.”

Mr Advani warned that “indebted governments are compelled to intensify a politics of austerity, further trapping these societies in cycles of debt. Investments in social programs or infrastructural developments are often stalled. Popular movements are unable to realize their demands at the state level due to the requirements of foreign creditors and domestic capitalists. The ensuing scenario is one where alternative politics are asphyxiated and increasingly circumscribed by an atrophied status quo.”

That may well be the purpose of the exercise with economic diversification efforts in the Gulf being driven more by the need of autocracies to upgrade their autocratic style and create opportunity for a restive youth in a bid to ensure regime survival rather than by the acknowledgement of a government’s responsibility to serve the people.

The result is a flawed approach to all aspects of reform.

In Saudi Arabia, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s Vision 2030 economic and social reform plan that calls for greater private sector involvement has turned into a top down effort that emphasizes state control with the government’s Public Investment Fund (PIF) as the key player.

A combination of depressed oil prices and the recent replacement of energy minister Khalid al-Falih as chairman of the board of Aramco by PIF head Yasir al-Rumayyan, a close associate of Prince Mohammed, raises questions about the state oil company’s positioning in advance of a much-touted initial public offering.

Ellen Wald, an energy analyst and author of a history of Aramco, the kingdom’s main source of revenue, noted that at PIF Mr. Al-Rumayyan had overseen investments more geared towards speculative gains than the sustainable growth of Saudi wealth.

Ms Wald said that raised the question whether Mr Al-Rumayyan’s objective with Aramco would be to serve the company’s long-term interests or those of the PIF.

Aramco this year bought a 70 per cent stake in petrochemicals maker Saudi Basic Industries Corp for US$ 69 billion in an effort to raise funds for PIF and delay the Aramco IPO that had originally been scheduled for 2018 but has since been delayed until 2020 or 2021. The megadeal is expected to boost the oil company’s downstream growth plans.

Nonetheless, Ms Wald cautions that Mr Al-Rumayyan’s appointment “doesn’t necessarily bode well for Aramco, which is a different kind of company. It has to make stable decisions for the long term,” she said.

By the same token, UNICEF warned that poverty, violent conflict, restrictive social norms, patriarchy, rights violations and lack of safe spaces for expression and recreation were limiting opportunities as well as civic adolescent and youth engagement.

Gulf emphasis on geopolitical dominance, regime survival and return on financial investment produces short term solutions that often exacerbate conflict, produce little trickle-down effect and few prospects for long-term stability.

“As a result, adolescents and youth in MENA (the Middle East and North Africa) feel disillusioned, with girls and young women, refugees, those with disabilities and the poor being particularly marginalised and underrepresented,” the UNICEF report said.

“Youth unemployment in the region is currently the highest in the world. Education systems are failing to prepare adolescents and youth for the workplace, and markets are not generating urgently needed jobs,” the report warned.

Gulf wealth glitters but if the UNICEF report is anything to go by, it has yet to demonstrate that it can produce the gold of a development that is sustainable and benefits not only all segments of Gulf societies but also of those across the region that have become dependent on it.

Gulf wealth: all that glitters is not gold

James M. Dorsey

Written by James M. Dorsey, an award-winning journalist covering ethnic and religious conflict. He blogs using soccer as a lens on the Middle East and North Africa’s fault lines. The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer

Dr James M. Dorsey is a senior fellow at Nanyang Technological University’s S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, an adjunct senior research fellow at the National University of Singapore’s Middle East Institute and co-director of the University of Wuerzburg’s Institute of Fan Culture.

A podcast version of this story is available on Soundcloud, ItunesSpotifyStitcherTuneInSpreakerPocket CastsTumblrPodbean and Castbox.

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Dubai remains one of the world’s most visited cities

Dubai remains one of the world’s most visited cities

AMEinfo on September 5, 2019, came up with this superlative statement article because Dubai remains one of the world’s most visited cities in the world of today. The same media has already covered the same topic last year.

Dubai remains one of the world’s most visited cities – Global Destination Cities Index 2019

Dubai remains one of the world's most visited cities

“The impressive visitor numbers are set to increase even further next year, as we welcome 192 nations for a once-in-a-lifetime celebration at Expo 2020 Dubai” – Sanjive Khosla, CCO, Expo 2020 Dubai

  • Dubai welcomed 15.93 million overnight visitors in 2018, retaining its ranking as fourth most popular destination globally
  • Abu Dhabi is Middle East and Africa’s fastest-growing city with a 2009-2018 CAGR of 16.7%
  • When looking at the cities by dollar spent, Dubai tops the list with travellers spending USD $553 on average a day

Dubai has retained its position as the fourth most visited city in the world for the fifth year in a row, according to Mastercard’s Global Destination Cities Index (GDCI) 2019. The city welcomed 15.93 million international overnight visitors last year and the city is expected to continue building on its success in 2019.

The UAE’s capital, Abu Dhabi, was ranked as the fastest-growing city in the Middle East and Africa, with a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 16.7% between 2009 and 2018 in overnight arrivals.

“Once again, Dubai has earned and maintained its position as the fourth most visited city in the world in Mastercard’s Global Destinations Cities Index. As the most attractive destination in the Middle East and Africa region for international visitors, Dubai connects people from all over the world with a diverse range of offerings for leisure and business travellers alike,” said Girish Nanda, General Manager, UAE & Oman, Mastercard.

Sanjive Khosla, Chief Commercial Officer, Expo 2020 Dubai, said: “The impressive visitor numbers are set to increase even further next year, as we welcome 192 nations for a once-in-a-lifetime celebration at Expo 2020 Dubai. With millions of visitors projected to come from outside the UAE, we anticipate that the region’s first ever World Expo will create short- and long-term benefits for Dubai’s tourism industry while enhancing its reputation as a dynamic and diverse global meeting point.” 

Read: New real estate committee in Dubai aims to balance supply and demand in the property market

Mastercard Global Destination City Index 2019 – Key Findings

Over the past ten years, the world has seen economic ebbs and flows, evolving global competition and partnership, and boundless technological innovation. But, one thing has remained constant: people’s growing desire to travel the world, visit new landscapes and immerse themselves in other cultures. Mastercard’s Global Destination Cities Index, released today, quantifies this desire: since 2009, the number of international overnight visitors grew an astounding 76 per cent.

This year, the Global Destination Cities Index—which ranks 200 cities based on proprietary analysis of publicly available visitor volume and spend data—reveals that Bangkok remains the No. 1 destination, with more than 22 million international overnight visitors. Paris and London, in flipped positions this year, hold the No. 2 and 3 spots, respectively both hovering over 19 million. All top ten cities saw more international overnight visitors in 2018 than the prior year, with the exception of London, which decreased nearly 4 per cent. The forecast for 2019 indicates across-the-board growth, with Tokyo expecting the largest uptick in visitors.

When looking at the cities by dollar spent, Dubai tops the list with travellers spending USD $553 on average a day. Makkah, new to the top 10 last year, remains at No. 2 for the second consecutive year, with Bangkok rounding out the top three. 

Read: Exclusive: Musafir.com allows corporates to pilot their own journeys and save big

Notably this year, the Global Destination Cities Index offers a decade of insights to consider, with three key trends standing out. 

-Consistent & Steady Growth: Over the past decade, the one constant has been continual change. Each year, more people are travelling internationally and spending more in the cities. Between all of the destinations within the Index, arrivals have grown on average 6.5 per cent year-over-year since 2009, with expenditure growing on average 7.4 per cent. 

-The Sustained Dominance of Major Cities: While there has been significant movement in visitors to smaller cities, the top 10 has remained largely consistent. London, Paris and Bangkok have been the top 3 since 2010, with Bangkok as No. 1 six of the past seven years. New York is another top 10 stalwart, with 13.6 million overnight visitors this year.

-The Rise of Asia-Pacific International Travelers: Cities in the Asia-Pacific region have seen the largest increase in international travellers since 2009, growing 9.4 per cent. In comparison, Europe, which saw the second highest growth, was up 5.5 per cent. This is spurred on by the growth in mainland Chinese travellers. Since 2009, mainland China has jumped up six places to be the No. 2 origin country for travellers to the 200 included destinations—behind only the U.S.

Dubai remains one of the world's most visited cities

Read: 

Why Syrian refugees have no negative effects on Jordan’s labour market

Why Syrian refugees have no negative effects on Jordan’s labour market

Jackline Wahba, Professor of Economics at the University of Southampton looks at the civil unrest in Syria direct implications on the country’s populations movements on one of the neighbouring countries, i.e. Jordan. Why Syrian refugees have no negative effects on Jordan’s labour market is a question in everybody’s mind since the start of the ensuing multilateral conflicts.

Why Syrian refugees have no negative effects on Jordan's labour market
MikeDotta / Shutterstock.com

Forced displacement is a global challenge. The number of displaced people rose from 43m to 69m between 2007 and 2017, with the highest growth primarily due to the Syrian conflict, which started in 2011. Since then, more than 6.3m Syrians have fled to neighbouring countries and beyond. This humanitarian crisis has generated public sympathy as well as concern about the implications of such a massive flow of people.

Jordan, which shares a border with Syria, has experienced a substantial influx of refugees. Around 1.3m Syrians live in Jordan, which has a total population of just 6.6m. The impact of so many people on members of the host community is a subject of great importance and debate.

One area of particular concern tends to be the job market. Jordan gives a unique insight into this as it signed an agreement with the EU in 2016, agreeing to allow Syrian refugees to enter legal employment in return for humanitarian aid, financial assistance and trade concessions from the EU. Known as the Jordan Compact, I studied its effect on the Jordanian labour market with colleagues Belal Fallah and Caroline Krafft. We found that the compact did not have a negative effect on Jordanian jobs or wages.

Using data that represented the whole country, combined with information on where most refugees live (which is fairly concentrated in certain areas of the country), we were able to identify the effects that Syrians had on Jordanians’ job prospects by comparing Jordanians’ labour market outcomes before and after the Syrian influx.

We found that Jordanians living in areas with high concentrations of refugees had no worse labour market outcomes than Jordanians with less exposure to the refugee influx. This result held across all labour market outcomes, including unemployment levels, hours, wages and characteristics of employment (such as sector, occupation and whether the work was formal or informal).

Our findings contrast with most of the very recent literature on the impact of the Syrian refugee influx, which to date had been limited to evidence from Turkey. Here, research found that natives who were employed informally were affected by Syrian refugees. But the global literature generally finds a similar mix to our findings of refugees having no or small specific negative effects on native job markets. This could be due to the demographics of refugees in Turkey and the fact that refugees aren’t legally allowed to work there, among other reasons.

Little competition

There are several reasons why the massive influx of Syrian refugees has had a minimal impact on the job situation in Jordan. The demographics of the Syrians in Jordan may have played an important role. Almost half are under the age of 15 and only 23% of Syrian refugees in Jordan are in the labour force (45% of men and 4% of women).

The aim of the Jordan Compact was to provide 200,000 Syrian refugees access to work permits and formal work. But the take up of work permits by Syrians has been very low. According to Jordan’s Ministry of Labour, by the end of 2017 only 87,141 work permits to Syrians were issued. This means there are few Syrians competing in Jordan’s (formal) labour market, making their effect on the labour supply relatively small.

Despite the massive inflow of Syrian refugees, the number of non-Syrian immigrants has not decreased in Jordan over the same period of time. According to Jordan’s 2015 population census, Jordan hosted an additional 1.6m non-Syrian foreigners. Other research has shown that Syrians mainly compete with economic immigrants in the informal sector where they don’t get given contracts, such as construction and some sales jobs. Here there is limited competition between refugees and Jordanians.

Demand and supply

The inflow of foreign aid has also been a potential mechanism for creating jobs for Jordanians. To help address the needs of the Syrian refugees, Jordan has received foreign aid from multiple sources. This aid has been channelled to help offset the budget deficit, finance public projects and support public services such as schools, hospitals and transport nationwide. Both direct assistance to refugees and aid to the government can create jobs, the latter disproportionately in the government and public sectors.

Finally, the increase in demand for public services by refugees, in particular education and health, has resulted in the Jordanian government increasing the provision of those services, which in turn increased the demand for workers (almost exclusively Jordanians) in these sectors.

Overall our results suggest that providing legal work opportunities to refugees is not detrimental to the native job market. The inflow of foreign aid to Jordan to assist with some of the needs of refugees, as well as the conditions of the Jordan Compact, which included aid and trade concessions and employment support for Jordanians, may have played an important role in creating labour demand for Jordanians. So it is vital to ensure sufficient resources and public services are in place to support refugees and the host economy.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.