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Oman Announces Potential Amnesty For Undocumented Workers

On January 13, 2015
Omani authorities discussed a range of prospective policy reforms in the first week of 2015.

Following Oman’s heavy crackdown on undocumented migrant workers last year, authorities indicated the possibility of an amnesty in the coming weeks.  As part of one of the region’s stricter nationalization policies, Oman deported hundreds of workers a week in 2014.  In the first week of 2015, over 50 undocumented workers were deported.  Deported workers included those in violation of labor and residency laws. Though the amnesty will not allow migrants to regularize their status, it could provide stranded migrants with a straightforward way home, as well as reduce the frequency of raids and arbitrary arrests that instill fear in even documented workers.

Oman’s mass detention and deportation of migrant workers is inconsistent with international norms. Though authorities coordinate with migrants’ embassies and consulates, migrants are indefinitely detained, often not permitted to appeal their case or even accorded an individual review of their case. International norms stipulate that detained migrants must be permitted access to lawyers and translators, and be accorded swift repatriation.

Remittance tax on hold

Authorities also temporarily retracted plans to impose taxes on expat remittances, until a thorough impact study is concluded. The proposal to tax remittances is one frequently discussed across GCC states, in part related to nationalization strategies but primarily built on perceptions that remittances represent lost national income – that migrant workers send the majority of their income abroad rather than investing it within the country. This is a misconception on several levels; many of the Gulf’s low-income migrant workers spend a considerable portion of their salary in the country of destination – food, housing, and communication costs are weighty financial burdens for those with notoriously low salaries.  Some Shura council members objected to the tax for these reasons. The economic benefit of taxing remittances is also questionable – one Omani minister recently expressed fear that taxing remittances may reduce investment prospects.

Xenophobia fuels these misconceptions, but so too does government propaganda; migrants are recurrently scapegoats for low national unemployment rates. Undocumented workers are regularly referred to as “infiltrators” in the Royal Oman Polices’ weekly report.  Promoting national employment does not necessitate the persecution of migrant workers. Similarly, while all states have the right to manage migration, the inalienable rights of all migrants, including those that are undocumented, should be maintained. These rights are systematically contravened by mass detentions and deportations.

Previous amnesties in the region have been riddled with complications, leaving migrants confused, stranded, or in an otherwise comprising position. But if the proposed amnesty is implemented with the full coordination of embassies, and permits a case-by-case review of each migrant worker, it could provide a just resolution.

Oman currently hosts 1.56 million migrant workers. Over 85% of these migrants are from India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh.