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Contesting Boundaries of "Citizenship": Diasporas, Migrant Workers and Human Rights

Panel XII-25, 2023 Annual Meeting

On Sunday, November 5 at 11:00 am

Panel Description
  • Based on 20 in-depth interviews of Pakistanis in the homeland on expatriate voting rights, I show how Pakistanis draw boundaries between themselves and overseas citizens as they navigate tensions around voting, citizenship, and politics. I demonstrate the importance of homeland voting rights in creating boundaries between local and dispersed populations, while recognizing that boundaries may vary depending on whether dispersed populations live in the Global North or Global South. In doing so, I reveal: (1) how citizenship is socially reconstructed for overseas citizens; (2) how dispersed populations are differentially categorized based on citizenship, class, and other inequalities in their country of settlement; and (3) that dual citizenship may not enhance immigrants’ transnational belonging. Counterintuitively, dual citizenship may render immigrants as “partially belonging” in both contexts, leaving them in a state of transnational limbo. Overall, I flip the narrative by identifying how those left behind perceive the departure of emigrants and their belonging to the homeland. In general, this paper problematizes how “diaspora” is imagined in migration scholarship.
  • The Arab Uprisings had a profound impact on the domestic politics of affected states as well as regional politics. Most studies choose to focus on how these major protest movements impacted regime durability and democratization prospects, or how they transformed into civil conflict that created or protracted existing refugee crises. This paper aims to explore how these critical events affected policies governing the flow of peoples; how did the uprisings affect migration laws? How did they impact nationality and citizenship laws? In this paper, I argue that uprising outcomes are associated with migration, nationality, and citizenship policy changes, and specifically as they pertain to emigrant and extraterritorial citizen rights and responsibilities. States where uprisings toppled incumbents or brought an overhaul of the regime also saw significant changes to their migration, nationality, and citizenship policies. In states where regimes survived major protest, migration and nationality policies experienced little to no change at all. The paper employs a comparative case analysis of four states that experienced a sustained upheaval in the early wave of the Arab uprisings – namely Bahrain, Egypt, Syria, and Tunisia. The paper seeks to unpack how mass protests produce institutional effects transcending the spatial boundaries of the state.
  • As a policy problem, issues associated with demographic imbalance are understood as are structural features of political life in the GCC region. States in the region have created and sustained a particular system or model that has been in place in since the formation of modern states in the post-war period. While this model has been effective, it is widely acknowledged that the structural realities within the region necessitate an examination of not only the efficacy of the model but also ways in which states in the region, including the UAE, might address these realities. Discussion of the efficacy of the Gulf model comes amid a rapidly changing strategic environment. In particular, states in the region are assessing their post-oil futures, taking into account falling birth rates (among nationals) and the need to maintain competitive and increasingly service-oriented economies. These realities have all contributed to a perception that the current model has limits, and thus what has worked for the past four decades is not likely to work for the next four decades. Aware of these structural realities, sections of the country’s leadership seemingly advance two opposing views –globalisation and inclusion, and at the same time nativism and an exclusivist cultural identity. The former projects an open for business ethos and expresses a desire to grow the nation, while the latter seeks to preserve the UAE state and public goods for a small mono-cultural national population. While all states face issues of balancing local culture and external forces, the issue is heightened by the demographic imbalance and inherent existential insecurity that results when a national population is a minority in its own state. In this paper I examine how the UAE’s demographic imbalance might be altered by, expanding the provision of UAE nationality and thereby switching from an ethno-cultural to a civic (or liberal) model of containing / managing nationalism. This is investigated in the context of nationalism studies that explore the basis of the social contracts which bind UAE nationals to their rulers, and vice versa. I raise these issues to demonstrate that the demographic imbalance is real and vastly complex but is also self-perpetuating. This system reflects not only the ethno-tribal underpinnings of the UAE’s nationalism and national identity but also a desire to maintain existing wealth redistribution channels. Therefore, there are limited options for fixing the demographic imbalance without also altering the UAE’s model of containing nationalism.
  • Permeant Residency Law in Qatar Case Study: Second-generation Arab Migrant Communities in Qatar (SGAM) The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries have more than 10% of the world’s migrants and host the largest concentration of foreign migrants (Mehdi 2004). Some Gulf countries, such as Qatar, have populations mainly composed of migrants. The Qatari citizens are a negligible minority, with more than 90% of the country’s population being non-Qatari citizens. Qatar received many migrants from Arab countries during the 1970s and 1980s because of the oil boom; many of these migrants remained in the country for decades. Therefore, the main characteristic of SGAM is that they are the offspring of migrants who migrated to Qatar within the last half-century. They were born and raised in Qatar, receiving their education, and working in private and government sectors. The SGAMs have high levels of productivity and engagement within Qatari society due to their predominantly young age and the expectation to live most of their life in Qatar, unlike most of the foreign migrants who usually stay for a temporary period. In addition, they could feel more attached to Qatar and bonded with Qatari citizens than other migrants because of the shared culture and language. Therefore, studying issues and policies related to their social aspects is important. This research study aims to evaluate the effects of the new migration laws in Qatar, such as the permanent residency. Even though Qatar is a second home for most of the SGAM community, they feel insecure because their residency situation in Qatar is temporary. They may still return to their country of citizenship at any time because acquiring Qatari citizenship is complicated (Babar 2014). Qatar offers SGAM who are born in the country some privileges, such as priority hiring status, especially in the government sector (Kapiszewski 2004). However, the announcement of the new permanency residency law can provide considerable momentum for the SGAM to feel attached and belong to Qatar. It might also be a way for Qatar to develop its citizenship law and allow SGAM to acquire citizenship. Unlike other GCC countries, Qatar developed its migration policies and became more lenient (Steffen 2014). Therefore, it can inspire other GCC countries to develop their migration policies, especially regarding second-generation migrants.
  • Since winning the bid to host the FIFA World Cup, Qatar has become a focal point for global media and human rights activists who have drawn attention to the country for its poor track-record of protecting the rights of its large migrant worker population. While much of the criticism that the country has drawn has fixed on exceptional and localized conditions of exploitation, the narratives surrounding migrant workers in Qatar reflect broader, global anxieties of how to ethically incorporate ‘legally’ marginalized or excluded communities. International temporary labor migrants are increasingly visible in multiple locations across the world, and many of them are situated in the lower tiers of the labor market in destinations states. Even in liberal democracies in the Global North that have traditionally relied on migration-for-settlement programs to meet labor needs, temporary labor migrants are being brought in in ever higher numbers to address gaps in the labor market that are not being addressed by the citizen workforce. This is phenomenon that is likely to increase in the coming decades. In light of mounting international criticism over the living and working conditions for migrant workers in Qatar, significant reforms have taken place to address problems that have arisen as a result of the kafala or worker sponsorship system and other aspects of local labor law. Yet criticism persists that these are technical fixes that will not go far enough when it comes to affecting real change for how migrants are treated and included. Multiple narratives abound on migrants, nationality, belonging and inclusion and all of these impact local attitudes towards as well as conditions for migrants. Qatar, as a small city-state which has engaged in a deliberate and strategic process of nation building over the past 50 years, is a site where these overlapping and at times competing narratives need unpicking. This paper will examine the evolution of local narratives of belonging and “authenticity’ made tangible through Qatar’s restrictive nationality laws, and how these engage with narratives around migrant workers’ protection and inclusions.