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The Good, Bad And Ugly Of Working In The Gulf Countries

By Akansha Arora:

What is it like to work in any of the Gulf countries? Has modernisation replaced the ‘traditional’ Islamic rules or does doctrine govern all others present in the country? The beauty and working conditions of any of these countries attract a lot of expats to come here. And India is no different. There are a number of Indians working in Gulf countries, and a number of them ready to move for an opportunity.

But what is it like working in the Gulf? Is the scenario the same as depicted in the articles and news items or is there something that needs to be discovered?

The above questions can only be answered by someone who has the experience of staying and working in the Gulf.

The Positive Side Of Working In The Gulf

A much sought-after destination for millions of Indian workers, the oil-rich countries have displayed both sides of the coin. Most of them are working or dream of working in Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Kuwait with a smaller presence in Bahrain, Oman and Qatar.

There are a number of benefits that someone working in the Gulf can experience. Some of them being:

1. Higher salary packages

When working in the Gulf, you can multiply your numbers significantly. There are a number of stories about how professionals chose to work in the Gulf, managed to get capital and now run their own startups. Steve Royston, an expat from the UK who worked in Saudi Arabia for a major part of his life talks about his time in the Gulf in his blog. Like him, you can find a number of Indian expats sharing similar experiences.

While the cost of living in most of Gulf countries is more than any of the metro cities in India, the numbers add because there is no tax on what you earn. Transferring money to India also does not require you to pay any taxes. Higher salary packages in the Gulf let you save more. The first few years, you might find that Indian salary and cost of living was better, but once you have your foot firmly down in the city, you will realise that you have a bigger bank balance than you would have had in India.

2. Cultural Experience

The mid-level or the high paying jobs in the Gulf offer a range of cultural experiences. There are people from around the world that help you grow culturally. One of the expats working in the UAE states in her blog that working in the Gulf is an enriching experience not just in terms of wealth, but also culturally.

Creating a wide professional network, visiting beautiful places nearby and a great professional career is what the Gulf has to offer.

The Other Side Of The Story

With the positive outlook where the numbers shine, there is a completely different side of the story. With higher salaries comes a high cost of living. A comparison study by reveals that living in the UAE is much more expensive than in India.


Labour laws until recently (only in a few countries) did not favour the expats working in the region. Changing jobs or returning home is a difficult process. Your sponsor, i.e. your employer, has full control of making you stay or letting you go.

Also, the problems faced by white-collar professionals in the Middle East are far less than what the low wage workers face. The low-wage workers are the ones that see the other side of the story. Abysmal workplace conditions for these people have made headlines time and again. According to The Huffington PostIndians working in the Gulf countries are 10 times more likely to die than in any other country in the world. Indians living in Kuwait or Saudi Arabia face the worst conditions.

According to some reports, between 2011 and 2015, 1,387 Indian workers lost their lives in Qatar. The country has also received severe criticism for the work conditions that prevail on the construction site of FIFA World Cup 2022.

Human Rights Issues

The Kafala System

When talking about the other side of the story, the Kafala system has a major identity. A majority of low-wage, service or domestic workers toil under harsher conditions with little predictions. Kafala is a system of control. A control that the sponsor has on the migrant. This system consists of laws designed to govern migrant worker’s immigration and legal residence. For the migrant workers there are three key restrictions that are part of this system. These include:

  • Changing a job with the consent of the employer
  • Quitting a job with the permission of the employer
  • Ability to leave the country with the permission of the employer

In any case, the migrant worker is withheld for any of the above stated restrictions, the consequences are major. They could either be deported back or spend time behind the bars. The low wage workers are the one that are exploited the most due to this system. A combination of Kafala system and workers exploitation in accessing their rights leads to abuse of workers’ rights in the Gulf countries.

What The Indian Government Has To Say

The government has maintained that recent deaths of Indians in the Gulf have been caused due to natural reasons, which seems unacceptable in light of the data released. According to the report, the maximum number of NRIs die in Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Indians working in the US and the UK experience better health and financial conditions.


Gulf countries no doubt have a lot of exposure to give you if you’re looking for a job at the mid or managerial level. For the labour class, however, while the money might be more than what they get here, recent figures that have come out make these countries unsafe.

Though the government of India promises to look after every issue that Indians working abroad face, the results are yet to be seen. It remains to be seen therefore, whether PM Modi’s visit to Saudi Arabia and Qatar will go on to improve the working conditions in the Gulf countries, especially for labourers.

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As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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