The Gulf countries have been hosting millions of foreign workers for decades, however almost all of them were on restricted temporary visas which provided no viable path to citizenship and have thus left the country at the end of their work contract. Most were also not allowed to bring in their families, thus ensuring that the immigration is truly temporary.

On the other hand Western countries like Germany have tens of millions of people who have managed to gain permanent residency, bring in their family and eventually become citizens. There are some temporary work visas but most people have some sort of a path towards citizenship.

Why is this the case? Why not copy the Gulf countries approach and only welcome individual workers for the duration of their contract?


9 Answers 9


I think you are looking at the issue from the wrong direction. If a group of people are only allowed to stay in a country temporarily for as long as the government tolerates them, then in practice they are always second-class people on the labor market. The difference between the Gulf states and the Western democracies is just whether this is seen as an acceptable outcome that is legally codified as in the Gulf states or whether this is seen as undesirable and happens through illegal immigration as in the Western democracies.

Both the US and Western European countries have a population of seasonal workers mostly in agriculture. They are not permanent residents, are not legally allowed to bring their families and are very much second-class on the labor market compared to citizens. In theory they should have the same rights as citizens but in practice they do not because their employers are in much more powerful position over them. So the same principle exists but the results are not seen as something democracies like to extend or settle in the law but rather try to combat.

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    The one thing I think is missing from this answer is that the citizens of these Gulf states are not required to work because they are provided for by their government. So not only is there not so much concern from the populace about immigrants undercutting their wages, allowing immigrants to become full citizens would mean sharing those benefits with more people.
    – JimmyJames
    Dec 28, 2023 at 19:02

I don't think you can compare "Western nations" in that regard easily. At least four different situations have to be considered:

  • North American countries are nations built of immigrants with no autochthonous population in any position to rule their country.
  • Colonial powers had a hard time arguing after the end of their rule how they could deny citizenship to their former subjects.
  • Northern European countries recruited foreign workers out of a need in the labour market, and things changed very gradually.
  • In the Mediterranean countries, who had been targeted by northern European recruitment in earlier decades, immigration got to be a major factor only in the last twenty to thirty years, but it is characterized by an illegal job market relying on the willingness of immigrants to work for sub-par wages, while official policy does not recognize the situation.

I can really only comment from a position of knowledge on West Germany. There, "a path to immigration" was something that took decades after the start of recruitment to develop, and it was never originally intended.

Foreign workers started to be recruited in the 1950s, with substantial numbers after the Berlin wall was built in 1961. They were supposed to be a temporary measure to help out fill menial, untrained jobs in the industry at low wages. They were meant to be filled with short-term contracts, without any prospect of living in Germany for more than a few years. It gave German workers an opportunity to reserve the higher-payed jobs with a need for education and extensive training for themselves.

It took only a few years until the industrial development, especially mechanization and automatization changed the labour landscape. Untrained work was no longer needed in such large numbers. Employers learned that workers that knew how to handle production equipment were a valuable resource.

In the 1970s, recruitment slowly came to a standstill, culminating in a recruitment stop 1973. Foreign workers got unlimited contracts. The number of female workers rose. The link of the visas issued to a working contract remained. Attempts to dissuade workers from staying permanently were mainly enacted through (inconsequent) rules for family reunions, and the duty to prove the existence of adequate housing. The result was that if a foreign worker ended their contract and returned to their home country, they lost the possibility to return to Germany at a later time. In that situation, the (from their perspective) attractive wages led a large number of them to decide to settle themselves and their families permanently in Germany.

It took politics a long time to even notice how things had changed. It was the rising unemployment of the 1980s when German and foreign workers started to compete for the same scarce jobs, that a (contentious) public discussion began. Half of the foreign workers (from Portugal, Spain, Italy and Greece) were now fellow citizens of the European Community (the other two largest sending countries being Yugoslavia and Turkey).

And then came the end of the Socialist bloc, German unification, the Balkan wars, and the development towards a European Union.

Only after the year 2000, a common policy throughout (at least the Western countries of) the European Union started to develop: Free movement inside the EU was established, making the role of citizenship for EU citizens almost moot. Immigration from outside the EU borders was curbed both by legal instruments and by brute force. Foreigners already living in Europe were divided into three distinct groups: those that are allowed to "integrate themselves" into the countries they are living in, and can gain citizenship in exchange, those whose presence is temporarily tolerated due to exonerating circumstances, and everyone else threatened by expulsion.

These rules still do not mirror the realities: Turkey becoming a member of the EU turned out to be not much more than a fiction, but the treaties governing the immigration opportunities from Turkey to Germany remain unchanged. Turkey actively dissuades its citizens living in Germany from applying for German citizenship. Large waves of refugees (Syria, Ukraine) are being accepted with the fiction that this only temporary. Some sectors of the economy still rely on temporary migrant workers at sub-par wages, with a differing level of legality.

To sum it up: Since the 1960s, German politics was never in charge of its own immigration policies. Changing circumstances, denying the realities, public resentment, international economic inequalities, they all lead to a disconnection between government actions and societal and economic facts. The stance on immigration and citizenship was never planned. It just turned out to be what it is.

Some sources for German migration politics:

  • The histories of immigration and its politics in different “Western countries” are indeed widely varying, as you say — but their current political rhetoric on immigration has significantly converged in recent years (certainly within both hard-right and liberal-centrist discourse; less so among the left, I think). Dec 30, 2023 at 16:03


Why are Western nations generally averse to immigration without a path to citizenship?

Why is this the case? Why not copy the Gulf countries approach and only welcome individual workers for the duration of their contract?

Short Answer

A healthy stable economy is a regulated one. How much regulation is debated, but some minimal regulations most would agree are necessary. A fair living wage driven by one's worth in a free labor market, a minimum wage, safety standards, a standardized work weak and protection for exploitation coercion and abuse on the job. Those regulations need to apply broadly or else the exception becomes the rule and the market is no longer regulated. These are lessoning the west learned through history. There was a time when most American laborers lived below the poverty line. There was a time when 1 of 11 workers at the largest most profitable American company; U.S. Steel would die on the job every year. Regulations, laws, and broad support for worker's rights where instrumental in changing these things. In the U.S. workers not on a path to citizenship are unable to participate in the market and in sufficient numbers their experiences become the rule and the free market ceases to exist.


In general, legal or illegal immigrants who are not on a path to citizenship can't participate in the free market for wages and benefits. When the populations of those who can't participate becomes sufficiently large percentage of the market, it negatively effects the market for everyone who is a citizen. The market for domestic workers evaporates, as it has in the United States for large segments of jobs dominated by legal guest workers and illegal workers neither of which are on a path to citizenship.

Specifically, both categories of workers create a pool of cheap laborers for large businesses which are more than capable of paying the market rate for such workers (according to their critics). Some of America's largest most profitable companies eagerly participate in the H1B program other large corporations eagerly hire illegal workers. For illegal immigration it creates a very large pool of the population which are outside the law and thus subject to exploitation, abuse, and crimes. They are unable to avail themselves of legal remedies for fear of deportation. For Legal H1B "guest workers", it's pretty much the same. They typically start at significantly lower wages than domestic workers. Their starting salaries negotiated while still in their home countries without any knowledge of what the U.S market values their vocations. Once here they are unable to easily change jobs because their immigration status is tied to their jobs for the duration of the 6 year program. Unable to easily change jobs annual wage increases are unnecessary to retain them and thus also fall short of what domestic workers would minimally expect.

So what you have is entire segments of the economy, ( high technology, construction, and agriculture ) where many of the folks who work in those fields do not participate in the free market at a considerable savings to their employers. Which is the point of the programs.

Specifically with Gulf countries.

They have a resource-based economy where the health of the economy is based on insatiable global demand for their resources. Culturally they have a narrow path's to citizenship and they like it that way. Immigration is not a strategy for growing their domestic workforce more a short-term solution to fill gaps and skills. So all foreigners skilled or unskilled with few exceptions are and always will be guests.

From the Comments:

@njuffa: "They [H1B guest workers] typically start at significantly lower wages than domestic workers." This needs a supporting citation.

It's like asking for supporting evidence the sky is up. H1-B program is 40 years old roughly and the same recycled dishonest and silly arguments persist.

@njuffa: The formal H1B requirements (as per DOL) are: "The H-1B employer must pay its H-1B worker(s) at least the “required” wage which is the higher of the prevailing wage or the employer’s actual wage (in-house wage) for similarly employed workers."

And yet throughout the entire history of the program it is a way for large profitable companies to enjoy cheap labor. Captive indentured servitude 21st century style. Pay them cheap, they can't go anywhere so you don't have to significantly increase those wages either.

It's easy to bypass any protections associated with the program. Third party job shops hire most of the H1B visa holders. They then rent them at huge markup to the Googles, Microsofts, Apple, Bank of America, Verizon and IBMs. The job shops take all the risk, what little risk there is. The large companies even paying a sizeable percentage to the shops still save money. It's transparently worked this way for decades and decades. It's impacted every field negatively the H1B's exist in. It suppresses wages and thus suppresses domestic folks going into those fields. That becomes an argument to justify more H1B's.


Frame Challenge: Countries that favor temporary residence for workers do it when they have a need for workers that they can't meet with the population that they currently have.

And example of this is migrant workers in the US Immigrant Farmworkers and America's Food Production: 5 Things to Know

Immigrant farmworkers make up an estimated 73% of agriculture workers in the United States. Farm labor is absolutely essential work that puts food on our tables across the country, powers the economy and supports our communities, from dairy farms in Wisconsin to strawberry fields in Florida and apple orchards in Washington. All together, food and agriculture sector is a $1.053 trillion industry.

That sure sounds like the US does allow for workers to come and stay for the duration of their contract and a lot take part in that.

The American Farm Bureau Federation estimates that, in total, U.S. agriculture needs 1.5 to 2 million hired workers each year. Farmers have been struggling to fill these positions; in 2019, 56% of California farmers reported being unable to find all the workers they needed over the last five years.

Looking at the numbers and it seems there is a massive worker shortage in this field which is likely why the number of migrant workers is so high.

Undocumented farm workers make up approximately 50% of the farm labor workforce. Without their hard work, millions of pounds of food would otherwise go unharvested. While these workers pay taxes and contribute to the economy, they are not protected by U.S. labor laws, and they live every day under the threat of arrest and family separation – all while working in extremely difficult conditions.

Even in the US these workers don't work under good conditions.

The H-2A Temporary Agricultural Worker Program is the primary way in which immigrant workers can legally perform short-term farm labor in the U.S. U.S. farmers can sponsor workers for a temporary employment visa if sufficient numbers of domestic workers are not available.

Here is the temporary visa system they use to get work

I would wager that the US isn't the only Western State like this and many others have these types of visas for industries that they can't get enough workers from their own population to fill the jobs.

In industries that they can get enough workers to fill the jobs they are unlikely to want to let in migrants to fill those jobs which can make it harder for the working population to get a job when migrants who will work for a lower wage can be hired instead.


It is all about how the two different groups of countries see their future.

The Gulf countries are all monarchies where the monarch actually has power. They all have an official religion. They want to keep it that way: preserve their culture, traditions and, hey, ethnic composition.

Conversely, the Western countries are secular democracies. They are not afraid of changes. They see benefit in diversity.

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    i have downvoted this and said why: that "They are not afraid of changes. They see benefit in diversity." sounds like a US-American view, that you should not put Old Europe and countries that stem from immigration in one basket. My remarks were removed. This answer bears a political slogan and seems to be political. My own answer was removed only since I stressed the bad side of immigration and a democracy failure behind it. You can talk about this in a neutral manner. If this is not asked or shown, there is something missing here. This is censorship in favour of favoured politics.
    – ETathome
    Jan 3 at 15:23
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    @ETathome I consider the said difference between Old Europe and countries that stem from immigration to be immaterial for the purposes of this question — when compared to the Gulf countries. Of course Old Europe is less enthusiastic about accepting new people than the US, but not to the extent of blocking their path to citizenship like the Gulf countries do. This is just a fact, there is nothing biased about stating it.
    – Greendrake
    Jan 3 at 23:13
  • This is just the US-American influence of decades. You have Korea and Japan without such an influence, and they are very strict. In Old Europe, you also have good (mostly hidden) shares of voters who are against immigration linked rules of citizenship. Since US-America stems from immigration, immigration leads to more identity changes in Old Europe than in the USA. This is also for inner-European migration. Brexit was mainly a vote against the European immigration laws. Mainly internationals with voting rights or the autochthonous who cooperate - London - voted strongly against the Brexit.
    – ETathome
    Jan 10 at 19:06

Aren't these conditions regularly compared to slavery where the employer has tremendous power over the employee to basically to basically kick the employee not just out of their employment but out of the country if they see fit? Leading to horrible working conditions and lots of death for example with regards to Qatar and the world cup.

Seriously that is technically a second- , or probably even lower than that, -class citizenship. Meaning you are in a country you contribute to that countries GDP, you likely pay taxes and contribute to that countries social security system but you lack any of the rights of that country, of that social security, of the right to politically participate about any of that. That's a very exploitative relation and the longer it lasts the less acceptable it becomes. Like if it is a short term contract about at max 2 years or whatnot you probably don't think about taking on the citizenship to begin with, but if people work in a country for decades, are immersed in that culture, have learned that language and are likely to stay like that, then it becomes more and more apparent that the citizenship is already a de facto reality and that the status of de jure being a foreigner is just an unjust discrimination.

I mean it's not the only way in which people get discriminated because of their passport, but that's still what it is.

  • and contribute to that countries social security system => in many countries temporary residents are opted out. I.e. this is how it works in Australia. Dec 28, 2023 at 14:20

It's completely about money.

Simple answer from a person who has lived and travelled across these ME countries.

The best ME countries, Dubai, Saudi and Kuwait all are socialistic heavens without the tax. The oil spendings are actually given in some way or the other to populations. The government gives great subsidizes and also high support to citizen. For example, if we take a european country like Germany, then literally every type of social benefit we get there from paying taxi is available in these countries but without the tax (plus more ofc), eg: Money for having children, free healthcare and so on.

This is how the population is kept under control.

In these countries, it is also that typically foreign workers from third countries are majority. If they were to get these benefits, then the country would collapse.

Here are some reddit threads discussing the same 1, 2. Various others can be found if searched.


The premise is probably not quite correct. When Germany had a shortage of unskilled labor, mostly in the 1960s, the government supported an influx of Southern European workers, many Turkish among them, to work in the booming industry. They were called "guest workers" and were by no means supposed to immigrate permanently, let alone become citizens. Indeed, the majority of the 14 million labor immigrants between 1955 and 1973 left the country again; 3 million stayed though. That is a development which just "happened"; it took some time for the public and the government to realize that many immigrants deemed temporary were never going back.

(West) Germany's immigration laws always provided were modernized in 1965; the new law gave immigrants a certified right to stay, similar to a Greencard status, after five years of legal presence in the country. After some additional time, there always was has been a guaranteed path to citizenship only since 2000.

I simply suppose that this path does not exist in the Arab countries. Additionally, the immigrant workers enjoyed the same unionized incomes and benefits as German workers, together with much of the social safety net Germany provides. While there certainly was and is a fair amount of prejudice, racism and discrimination, their situation was legally protected and economically often "not bad", compared to the back then fairly poor European South. This made it attractive and possible to immigrate permanently.

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    "always provided a certified right to stay" – are you sure about that? The first Ausländergesetz was enacted in 1965, and I am not sure the Aufenthaltserlaubnis without a defined purpose and no temporal limit was provided for working migrants. My impression was that the "consolidadion" (Verfestigung) model of the right to stay was introduced only with the 1990 reform, together with the option for the children of foreigners born in Germany to apply for citizenship.
    – ccprog
    Dec 28, 2023 at 14:11
  • It seems the core of your statement is true: Here it says that in the govermental discussions leading up to the recruitment stop in 1973 the "rotation principle" was explicitely rejected in favor of "migrants achieving automatically a more secure status of residency the longer their stay lasts".
    – ccprog
    Dec 28, 2023 at 15:29
  • ...while here it says in 1978 less than 3% of all residency permits were permanent.
    – ccprog
    Dec 28, 2023 at 17:04
  • @ccprog You are right, "greencard-like" status came in 1965 and citizenship reform only 2000. Dec 29, 2023 at 1:24

The laws to promote immigrant citizen equality started over a century ago, an example France in 1889 decided to naturalize everyone born in France at their 18th birthday. Later reforms to bring in wives and families of African workers were controversial and happened with a conscience of historical colonial violence and great economic profit from easy to control labour. Charles de Gaulle in 1963 said that "there were more foreign born babies in France than French ones, which requires remediation" and in the 1970's the borders were closed to immigration, laws regarding crime and expulsion were strong, and 10,000 francs were given to those that returned home,the Law Bonnet of 1980. In 1983, Mitterrand changed that, naturalized 130,000 illegal immigrants, facilitated family regroupment and social measures. So the laws have flip-flopped for 50 years, with a particular relaxation of borders since the late 1990s, in a shadow of neocolonialism and old colonial violence.

Western countries have been ruled by groups that use philosophy and idealism to vote on law, the redistribution of national wealth and competition from big companies.

The idealism that gave rise to blanket granting of citizenship to millions of immigrants happened as with echoes of colonial violence and extremist older cultures which imagined tropical countries as a human safari and 1960s idealists who did not imagine the problems of weak borders, relentless colonialism, continued instability in neighboring regions.

As very major powers in the world, the philosophers that decided the western immigration laws opted to side with kindness and idealism against racism without necessarily considering finer points of immigration law and long-term inconveniences.

Today we know that second and third generation immigrants can react very badly to extreme culture clashes and the difficulty of adapting to sometimes very difficult languages and industrialized harshness in a context of a millennial religious cultural conflict, and so a change in immigration law is due however there is still the problem of racism and capitalist anarchy of multi-national government exploitation abroad, which stops philosophers from deciding a new legal reform.

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    If your answer had been restricted to describing the French development, I would have upvoted, but your unsolicited claim "Western countries have been ruled by groups that use philosophy and idealism to vote on law" is IMHO a distraction from the valuable content.
    – ccprog
    Dec 28, 2023 at 16:57
  • It's the cornerstone of western civilization, an explanation for a "Gulf Countries" persepective of the OP: The enlightenment was a western philosophical movement which has affected all our laws and has greatly changed human rights and notions of equality from the 1700ds caused revolutions and democratic systems with philosophies of justice, law and executive. Perhaps I was too vague? quote: However, the modern conceptualization of the separation of powers is often attributed to the 17th-century political philosopher John Locke. Locke's "Second Treatise of Government" changed governments. Jan 8 at 18:32

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