Indian Migrants In Gulf States: A Critical Assessment Of Their Issues And Challenges From A Human Rights Perspective


The research paper emphasizes the conditions of the Indian migrants in gulf countries and the issues and problems which they encounter. The present century is considered as a century of globalization that consists of the international movement, global business, and migrant workers. [i]With India having a population of about 1.4 billion people, it becomes difficult for every citizen to get the desirable income; therefore, they migrate to different states or countries to pursue better opportunities. Also, some of the gulf countries like the UAE are tax-free, making it lucrative to get transferred. The notion of ‘human rights’ guarantees the right to freedom to settle abroad for employment.


In simple words, a ‘migrant’ can be defined as a citizen of a particular country who possesses civil and political rights.[ii] That is an Indian migrant would be a citizen of India who had moved to another nation, a person of Indian origin who is residing outside India or a person who has been born outside but his/her origin is in India.[iii] Gulf countries are full of Indian migrants; they are primarily semi-skilled or unskilled workers who are engaged in a number of different businesses especially in the business of textiles, motor space parts, electronics etc. Millions of Indian migrants work in six gulf countries comprising of the UAE, Kuwait, Qatar, Oman, Bahrain, and Saudi Arabia.


The socio-economic profile of the migrants is not financially sound; they sell off their properties to manage their visas and other fees. The Indian migrants are exploited in these countries because they have the technical expertise and are willing to work at pecuniary wages.[iv]


The unprecedented circumstances caused by the Covid-19 pandemic has exposed the vulnerability which the migrants face in the gulf nations. The direct impact of lockdown resulted in lower economic benefits for the industries, resulting in mass unemployment, low wages, whimsical detentions, etc. Moreover, the right to freedom of movement is restricted; and in certain countries like Oman, the stringent laws make it impossible for Indian citizen to exercise their right of free action.[v]


Many gulf countries have not ratified the labor law conventions and international treaties. The ‘International Convention on the Protection of Rights of all Migrant Workers and Members of their Families 1990’[vi], which safeguards migrant laborers of other sovereign countries from discrimination, is has not been ratified by any of these Gulf countries.


Discrimination among women workers is rampant in these countries with women rarely been allowed to hold any high or senior positions. The economic gains are minimal; the migrants can hardly save money. With the ‘right to freedom of speech and expression’ being highly restricted in the gulf countries[vii], it has become difficult for the employees to raise their voices against the discrimination and the violation of their basic rights which they face.


The research paper has highlighted the significant human rights issues which the Indian migrants are going through in gulf countries. The reasons for settling in gulf countries are varied for the Indian population inspite of the issues and challenges which they face therein.



The present research project is based on literature which has been collected from a number of sources including websites of the United Nations and the official website of the Ministry of External Affairs of India. The paper has also relied on the provisions of the ‘International Convention on the Protection of Rights of all Migrant Workers and Members of their Families 1990’ to break-down the reasons for the migration of Indian inhabitants to gulf nations.


Of all the literature present, the present project has focused mainly on the following two the most:-

  • John Calabrese, ‘India-Gulf Migration: A Testing Time’ (Middle East Institute, 14 April 2020).

India’s interests and capabilities extend well beyond the subcontinent. This essay is part of a series that explores the geopolitical dimensions, economic ties, transnational networks, and other aspects of India’s links with the Middle East, a region where huge numbers of Indian migrate every year in search of better job opportunities and livelihood.


  • Myron Weiner, ‘International Migration and Development: Indians in Persian Gulf’. Population and Development Review, Vol. 8 (3), Sept. 1982.

As countries with great wealth low populations and labor shortages the gulf states rely heavily on imported labor to fuel the development process. They do not allow migrants to become citizens. This article examines the social economic and political effects of this strategy of development by exploring the role of Indians who form one of the largest group of migrants to the Gulf states.



The present research paper attempts to provide an in-depth analysis of the issues and challenges which a migrant worker from India faces while living in the gulf countries. The paper also aims to highlight the underlying reasons for more and more Indians migrating to these countries inspite of their poor human rights record. The paper aims to provide suggestions towards solving this problem.


The paper aims to decipher the issues of restricted fundamental rights such as ‘right to freedom of speech and expression’ and the ‘right to property’. Moreover, the low wages being given and the shambolic working conditions have also been analyzed. The highly restricted nature of movements has also been highlighted.

  1. To examine the conditions of Indian migrant workers in the gulf countries.
  2. To recognize the challenges which an Indian migrant faces in these countries from a human rights perspective.
  3. To analyze the human rights issues which an Indian faces in these countries and suggest ways from an ‘international humanitarian perspective’.
  4. To provide suggestions and recommendations which can be implemented by the concerned authorities to ensure that the principles of human rights remain intact.

The paper examines the challenges and everyday problems faced by the migrant workers of India in the gulf countries and how following the principles of international humanitarian law can help in effectively solving these issues.


  1. What is the present status of the Indian migrant population who are currently residing in the gulf countries?
  2. What are the human rights challenges and problems which an Indian migrant worker faces?
  3. What are some of the fundamental rights which are being provided to the migrant population and what are the rights which are being restricted?
  4. How the present labor law legislation in the gulf countries is highly inadequate to solve the issues of violation of human rights of migrants who reside there?

 As highlighted earlier also, the issue of migration is of a serious concern for the Indian economy especially post the Independence period. The major problems such as poverty, unemployment, economic empowerment has led a number of Indian to migrate towards the gulf countries. It has been delineated in the paper that along with these factors Indians like to work in gulf countries due to the tax-free income which is provided to them.


As stated hereinabove the migration of Indians towards the gulf countries started subsequent to the 1970s and 1980s. Unarguably, the Indian population is one of the largest in the entire world in moving to or migrating to gulf nations.  In countries such as Kuwait, Arab, Qatar, and Oman, ‘two-third’ of the labor forces come from India. A number of studies conducted have shown that most of the migrants coming from India who move to the gulf countries come from a poor background.[viii] Then the question arises, as to why the gulf countries hire Indian citizens. The authors to this answer argue, the people of India are hard-working away from their families, who are not highly qualified but they are generally technical and skilled people.




For understanding the issues and challenges which the Indian diaspora faces in the gulf countries, it becomes imperative to look at the present scenario briefly and assess the current position of the Indian diaspora in these gulf countries.


In Bahrain, the Indian migrants are engaged in different business activities such as hardware, jewellery, electronics etc.[ix] The other job opportunities wherein several Indians are engaged in include work such as those of a carpenter and a chemist.  The major turning point came in the late 1970s in Bahrain when the oil prices spiked, which resultantly opened up newer avenues for employment such as engineers, doctors, teachers, etc. Interestingly, the Indian community in Bahrain is so strong that there is hardly any company or business which does not have an Indian employee.


In Kuwait, the migrants from India constitute the single-largest community accounting for at-least 24% of the population. They are working in the government as well as in the private sector.[x] In Kuwait, the Indian migrants are considered as ‘foreign nationals’. They are not allowed to own any immovable property in their own name and are neither allowed to own any business in their name. So, the Indians living there have successfully followed these regulations by partnering with the residents. Similar to Bahrain, this country also consists of Indian workers who are semi-skilled and un-skilled such as doctors, engineers, accountants, scientists and architects, technicians and nurses respectively.


Thirdly, in Saudi Arabia there are close to 7.5 million migrants from India at present.[xi]  Due to the mass exodus of the Yemini workers who lost their visa due to the Gulf crisis, this country recruited a large number of Indian workforce to replace them. There are 3 broad categories of Indian migrants in Saudi Arabia. The first categories are professionals like doctor, engineers, chartered accountants, who are employed both with government and in the private sector on the basis of their specialized knowledge and time-bound contracts. They comprise about half of Indian community here.” The“second category of Indian workers in Saudi Arabia are large specialized groups which comprises of about 10% of white-collared staff such as clerks etc. The third groups of , Indians workers in Saudi Arabia are working in organized labours, in industrial establishments and in operation and maintenance jobs.


Indians in the United Arab Emirates (‘UAE’) constitute a large part of population of the country. The total numbers of Indian workers in United Arab Emirates 2.77 million according to the latest government statistics. Indian workers in the country represent about 40 percent of the total population of UAE according to a recent report. “Over 35% of Indian workers in the UAE are engaged in the business of manufacturing, transport and related professions, while 20% are engaged in professional and technical field.



The research issue in the paper has raised several problems associated with the migrant workers coming from India to the gulf countries. Especially during the pandemic time, a number of issues like disparity of wages, denial of work, unemployment etc. were quite rampant.[xii] For the first time, the said community got into the limelight during the unprecedented times of Covid-19. The lockdown caused havoc amongst them, and the most of them left their respective states to travel down to their home state.[xiii] The exodus of migrant workers allowed reflecting on our existing brought into sharp focus the labor legislations present in the gulf nations.


The effects of the pandemic still looms large in the gulf countries and has affected the entire population in some way or another. The legislation enacted earlier were bereft of any situation which could have predicted or encapsulated the Covid-19 pandemic.  From an Indian perspective, ‘The Contract Labor (Regulation and Abolition) Act of 1970[xiv] provides for the protection of contract labors under certain circumstances.


The relevance of issues flagrant in gulf countries should allow for introspection for our Government. The Indian migrants are the citizens of India and the only reason why they shifted outside of India to these countries was because of finding employment opportunities to earn a better livelihood and support their families.[xv] It is suggested that the Government can form a treaty where these migrant workers are given due recognition and remuneration.


Moreover, there has been increasing instances of fraud and extortion being committed by the recruitment agencies, who lure the vulnerable migrants on the pretext of a good and lucrative job. The other glaring issue of the employer having a veto on the employee, with the latter not even being free to leave the country in emergencies like sickness or death of a family member. Women and employees are the antithesis of one another in gulf countries. Gulf people employ women in low-skilled work profiles like house-maids and cleaning staff.


The presence of human rights issues presents a grave challenge for the gulf nations to address in collaboration with their Indian counterparts since the gulf countries are not seen as the ardent followers of human rights and have disregarded its importance in several cases.


It becomes significant to discuss in detail regarding the problems faced by Indian migrants in the gulf countries. However, with the ‘freedom of movement’ in the gulf States being highly restricted, it becomes difficult to move from one country to another country without having a visa.[xvi]  However, they are allowed to meet their migrant friends and relatives in the host countries.


Other problem such as issues related to residency and permanent citizenship still persist, since in most of the instances the Indians in the Gulf countries do not normally become citizens. “The citizenship is almost universally not granted by the gulf countries to a foreign national. They are mostly temporary migrants who do not qualify for residency. The children of Indian migrants are not given citizenship even if they are borne in these gulf States.[xvii] That implies that when they leave their jobs they have to go back to India.”


Further, the Indian migrants in the Gulf countries does not have ‘right to association and union’. These countries does not allow any migrant to form any kind of political party or Union as mostly they do not have a democratic system in place.


However, on the flip side, the gulf countries provides for the ‘right to religious freedom’ to every migrant. Every Indian migrant has the right to practice their religion and can follow their culture, religious laws, traditions etc. However, nobody is allowed to publicly eat or drink.[xviii] Now talking about the family status of Indian migrants in Gulf States, they are allowed to take their family along with them. However, this is only provided to those professional who have a certain level of income which they receive every month.


Lastly, in these gulf countries the basic rights, such as the ‘right to property and freedom of speech and expressions’ are very restricted in nature. In this regard, it is essential to note that no gulf country provides for the ‘right to property’.[xix] The migrants are not allowed to own any property in their name, they can run business, hotels, restaurants in the name of the localities. Moreover, the fundamental ‘right to freedom of speech and expression’ is also highly controlled and limited.[xx] That is, it has been observed in various instances that if the workers protest in any of the gulf country then they get arrested by the public authorities and enforcement agencies.



Thus, based on the above discussion regarding the conditions of the Indian migrant workers in Gulf nations, it can clearly be concluded that a lot needs to be done theoretically and practically. While, the pandemic brought the focus back into the plight and difficulties faced by the migrant workers when they migrate to these countries, however no concrete steps have been taken so far in order to either provide help or aid to these migrant workers.

The author believes that the most important consideration for effectively solving the issues and problems faced by the Indian people living there would be through ‘increased collaboration’ between the Government of India and the Governments of these countries. Regular exchange of information and timely updates regarding the steps taken to provide adequate wages for the work done could be one of the steps which can be taken. Also, there is no clear legislation or law which prohibits the exploitation of the migrant workers in the Gulf countries, with the Government of these countries behaving in an authoritarian manner in these issues. In order to ensure that such high-handedness by the authorities is prevented it would be imperative to bring out strong legislations and treaties which focuses on the welfare of the workers from a ‘human rights perspective’. The Governments of the Gulf nations would have to bring about guarantees so as to improve the living conditions of the workers present there. Major reforms and initiatives would be required from their part.

The  international community need to put more pressure on these nations to improve their ‘human rights image’.  From the perspective of India, even after liberalization and allowing foreign investment, Indian citizens are severally migrating to these Gulf countries. In my opinion, the failure of successive Governments to open more avenues of employment has led to the present state of mass migration taking place.

Though the challenges and issues faced by the migrant worker from India still persists, the coming together of the various stakeholders involved including the Government of these countries and the general public could go a long way in assuaging the concerns of the migrant workers and ensure them a dignified life. Pro-active steps involving the various aspects of effective implementation of ‘human rights of the migrants’ is the need of the hour. 

[i] International Labour Organization, ‘Labour Migration’–en/index.htm accessed 15 April 2023.”

[ii] Amnesty International, ‘Refugees, Asylum-Seekers and Migrants’ (Amnesty International, accessed 15 April 2023)”

[iii] Raghav Jain, ‘Understanding the Migrants’ (2020) Business Standard accessed 15 April 2023.”

[iv] Vikram Singh Mehta and Rajat Kathuria, ‘Supporting Indian Workers in the Gulf: What Delhi Can Do’ (2019) Brookings Institution accessed 15 April 2023.”

[v] ‘Human rights in Oman’ (Wikipedia, 15 April 2023) accessed 15 April 2023.”

[vi] International Convention on the Protection of Rights of all Migrant Workers and Members of their Families 1990, 18 Dec. 1990, 2220 U.N.T.S.  3. Available at: accessed 15 April 2023..”

[vii] Duffy, Matthew. ‘Freedom of Expression in the Gulf Region: An Overview of Recent Developments and Key Challenges’ (2014) Global Freedom of Expression, Columbia University accessed 15 April 2023.”

[viii] Azeez, A. A., & Bada, S. O. (2009). “Psychological Determinants of Drug Abuse among Youths in Ilorin Metropolis, Kwara State, Nigeria.” Journal of Social Sciences, 20(1), 55-61. Available at: accessed 15 April 2023.”

[ix] Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry, ‘Trends and Opportunities in Bahrain’ (2017) accessed 15 April 2023.”

[x] Nayyar. D. (1994), Migration Remittances and Capital Flows: The Indian Experience, Oxford University Press, New Delhi.”

[xi] Prakash C. Jain, “Indian Diaspora in West Asia,” Abhayankar Ed, West Asia region: India Defining Role, Academic Foundation, New Delhi (2007).”

[xii] Demireva, N. and Van Houte, M., ‘Migration and Social Protection: A Comparative Analysis of Four European Welfare States’, (2021) 9(1) Comparative Migration Studies 1-32 accessed 15 April 2023.”

[xiii] Katzman, K., ‘How Gulf states can lead the global COVID-19 response’ (Brookings Institution, 6 April 2020) accessed 15 April 2023.”

[xiv] The Contract Labor (Regulation and Abolition) Act, 1970 (India). Available at: accessed 15 April 2023.”

[xv] Financial Express, ‘Change in Immigration Trends: Indians now moving to new countries beyond the UK, Canada’, (15 September 2021) accessed 15 April 2023.

[xvi] Kapur, H., ‘India-Gulf Migration: A Testing Time’ (Middle East Institute, 19 May 2020) accessed 15 April 2023.”

[xvii] International Labour Organization, Promoting Jobs, Protecting People: How the Decent Work Agenda can Contribute to the Development Goals in the Asia-Pacific Region (International Labour Office, 2007) accessed 15 April 2023.”

[xviii] Wikipedia, ‘Migrant Workers in the Gulf Cooperation Council Region’ accessed 15 April 2023.”

[xix] McElroy, A., ‘Countries with No Property Taxes: Really a Home Run for You?’ (Nomad Capitalist, 17 October 2021) accessed 15 April 2023.”

[xx] Amnesty International, ‘Middle East and North Africa: State of Human Rights’, (Amnesty International Publications, 2022) accessed 15 April 2023.”


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