Resilience and Sustainability in the Gulf Migration Regimes: Kafāla in the Era of Covid-19
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The ongoing Covid-19 pandemic has strongly reaffirmed the critical importance of labor migration to the global economy, even as it has raised questions about the temporary migration programs responsible for much of this migration. In the Arab Gulf states – home to some of the world’s highest proportions of migrants – the pandemic has highlighted critical structural weaknesses in the region’s kafāla migration regimes. Drawing on two nationally representative surveys of Qatar’s citizens and migrants conducted between October 2020 and June 2021, we argue that the Gulf’s temporary migration regimes have shown resilience during the pandemic regarding flexibility, networks, and policies. However, Gulf states have gained this resilience at the expense of migrant workers, which threatens the sustainability of the kafāla in its current form. Nevertheless, we also identify key reforms undertaken in Qatar, which continued during the pandemic, and we find general acceptance of these reforms by citizens and business owners. Additionally, we find that Covid-19 has promoted recognition of the importance of migrant workers in the national labor supply, even if significant steps are still required to reduce migrant vulnerability.
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