In the United Arab Emirates (UAE), skyscrapers, luxury vehicles, high-end shops and fast food chains line the streets. The country appears to be wealthy and in many ways it is. However, poverty in the UAE paint a picture of exclusion from the comfort, luxury and beauty that attracts so many tourists to the nation.
Facts About Poverty in the United Arab Emirates
- The poverty rate in the UAE is 19.5 percent, juxtaposing the stereotypes that many associate with the UAE. The poverty line in the UAE is defined as an income of 80 dirham ($22) a day.
- The UAE is mostly populated by immigrants from South Asia, Egypt and Morocco. Expatriates make up 88 percent of the UAE’s population. This percent also makes up the majority of the population living below the poverty line.
- Migrant workers often have to pay recruitment agencies to find legitimate work in the UAE. Many become immediately indebted to these agencies, rendering them susceptible to economic hardship.
- Human Rights Watch reported in September 2017 that the UAE adopted a protective labor legislation for migrant domestic workers. This piece of legislation has prohibited recruitment agencies from charging fees. However, there are still glaring weaknesses in UAE labor laws, especially those dealing with migrant workers. Millions of workers, particularly those with an “illegal status” in the UAE, are still paid unlivable wages and forced to work under extreme or unsafe conditions.
- The wealth gap between rich and poor in the UAE is one of the worst in the world, largely due to the amount of welfare and protection afforded to native Emiratis and the amount of neglect towards migrant workers.
- Increasing the inclusivity of the education system is one way that the UAE is working to reduce poverty. The UAE government has begun integrating a National Literacy Strategy while employing the Ministry of Education to create several strategies to further develop the education system.
- The UAE’s failure to integrate its citizens into the private sector of the economy has contributed to its high levels of poverty. Only 0.34 percent of Emiratis work in the private sector, which is largely due to the sociocultural stigma around service jobs. The government has made several attempts to break this association and promote citizen employment in all sectors. They do so through education initiatives, but the welfare system allows many Emiratis to work very little or not at all and still maintain their livelihood.
- The Emiritization initiative has been in place for decades now and requires every company with more than 100 employees to have a certain number of Emiratis on their payrolls. The program has been effective in the public sector, but has largely failed to address the lack of workforce participation within the private sector.
- Expatriates are fined for overstaying their visas, while being prohibited from leaving the country until their debts are paid. Fines range between 25 and 100 dirhams ($7-$27) for every day beyond their visa expiration date. The economic desperation invoked by this policy, on top of the desperation caused by recruitment fees, has made immigrants especially vulnerable to labor exploitation in the UAE.
- According to The News Tribune, officials reported that 25,000 migrant workers exceeded their stay in 2017 alone. The UAE has recognized the difficult situation created by their fine policy. On August 1, 2018, the government launched an amnesty program, forgiving all fines associated with overstaying visas and granting new visas.
The facts about poverty in the United Arab Emirates reveal several systematic issues within the country. The improvements made on workers’ rights in the UAE cannot and should not overshadow the immense amount of work has to be done to allow an avenue of escape for impoverished migrant workers. The abuse of migrant labor, which the UAE largely depends, is perhaps the biggest problem it must tackle in order to address the overarching issue of poverty.
– Julius Long