Return of Jordanian Expatriates From Gulf: Media Assumption Not Supported by Facts and Figures

AKEED, Aya Khawaldeh

Local, Arab, and foreign media outlets have assumed the forced return of Jordanian expatriates against the backdrop of the recent crisis between several Gulf states and Qatar without basing this assumption on real facts and figures. The media warned of their return "in large numbers" and stressed that the government must prepare for receiving waves of returnees.

The instructions issued recently by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia on the residency of foreigners have fueled the debate in the media on the possible return of Jordanian expatriates. Some media reports described the instructions as a "disaster," while others said that they would "cause an economic crisis." Some reports carried the views of economists and politicians of these instructions.

The Jordanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates has not issued any studies or official figures about the return of citizens living abroad. Besides, the information about the return of Jordanians from Saudi Arabia and Qatar is unconfirmed. The Jordanian Media Credibility Monitor (AKEED) has followed a number of reports published by media outlets to see whether they have covered the story based on balance and accuracy and without exaggeration and blowing things out of proportion.

One of the reports followed by AKEED is an undocumented letter published on a local website from Jordanians living in Saudi Arabia under the headline "Jordanians in Saudi Arabia Appeal to Jordanian Government To Intervene After "Disastrous" Saudi Decision To Impose Taxes on Their Families."

According to the letter, the Jordanian residents confirmed that "the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is planning to implement a decision to impose a tax on each family residing in Saudi Arabia as of the first of July 2017. This decision will include all Jordanians on Saudi soil." They asked the Jordanian government to intervene to stop the decision.

An Arab website published a report under the headline "Jordanian Workers in Saudi Arabia…Government in Deep Sleep." The report adopted an established fact, despite the lack of figures, based on testimonies by a group of Jordanian young people who lost their jobs in the Gulf states. The report began as follows: "Almost one Jordanian family every day receives a son who is returning from a Gulf state, having lost his job there due to the difficult economic conditions experienced by Gulf companies."

A local website published the same introduction in a report headlined "Return of Jordanians From Gulf…Unlikely Disaster or Imminent Reality?" The body of the report does not match its headline as economists and government officials ruled out the return of Jordanians in large numbers, stating that such news "is not supported by any real indicators."

In light of the absence of official figures, an Arab website has put the number  of returnees from the Gulf, quoting Jordan Labor Watch, at thousands. It discussed the rise in unemployment and growing pressure on the Jordanian economy. It quoted several economists, the Ministry of Labor, and the Central Bank of Jordan (CBJ) on ways to absorb the returnees and provide job opportunities, in addition to the repercussions of the drop in remittances by Jordanians working abroad. Many local media outlets published the report.

According to CBJ bulletins, the remittances of Jordanian expatriates rose during the first half of the current year by 3.3% to $856 million compared with $607 million for the same period in 2016. Last year had witnessed a drop in remittances of expatriates by 2.4% compared with 2015.

In press statements, Maher Al Sheikh Hasan, deputy governor of the CBJ, expected expatriate remittances to continue to improve in the second half of 2017, ruling out any drop. He pointed out that the recent Gulf crisis had not affected remittances of Jordanian workers in the Gulf. He said: "We have not seen a negative impact on the remittances of Jordanian expatriates, specifically those in Qatar," with whom Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain, and Egypt severed ties on 5 June.

A foreign news agency ran a report under the headline "Economists Warn of Large Return of Jordanians From Gulf." The report, which was carried by most local media outlets, quoted a number of Jordanian economists as warning of a setback to the economic process.  

Other media outlets adopted a neutral position and examined the issue and its likelihood and the measures that the government must take in the event of the return of expatriates so that their return would not put pressure on the economy and infrastructure. One of these reports carried the headline "Jordanian Workers in Saudi Arabia…Gulf No Longer Like Before." The report included interviews with a number of Jordanian young people returning to Jordan to settle down on the difficulties that young people encounter in the Gulf states. The report spoke about fears sparked by the return of expatriates concerning the future of Jordanian workers there.

The Jordanian News Agency (Petra) published a study conducted by the Jordan Strategy Forum under the headline "Jordanian Expatriates: Opportunity and Challenge" on the Jordanian economic challenge in the event of the return of expatriates anytime and using this to raise economic growth and increase productivity.

In an opinion piece monitored by AKEED, one of the writers considered the return of expatriates a dangerous time bomb and a major economic disaster for Jordan. He based his opinion on the inability of Jordanian expatriates in the Gulf, specifically in Saudi Arabia, to bear the fines imposed on residents, arguing that the return of all expatriates to Jordan within the next two years was inevitable.

Another writer had an article headlined "Jordanian Expatriates in Saudi Arabia," in which he raised the question of the return of expatriates and its impact on both Jordan and Saudi Arabia. He considered their return without taking the necessary measures by the concerned parties a time bomb and impending disaster.

Sabah Al Rafie, official spokeswoman of the Foreign Ministry, told AKEED that "the figures of expatriates keep changing; they are inaccurate. We cannot confirm the assumption that expatriates are back to settle down or to spend their vacation. Jordanians are not supposed to inform the authorities of their return to Jordan to settle down."

She said that Jordanians in the Gulf states total 750,000. The largest number is in Saudi Arabia, totaling 430,000. There are 200,000 in the UAE, while their number in the other Arab states is estimated at 28,000. There are 100,000 in the United States. The total, according to ministry statistics for 2017, is 950,000 expatriates.

An official source at the Ministry of Interior, who preferred anonymity, told AKEED that "the duty of the ministry is to facilitate procedures for the entry of Jordanians through the Residency and Borders Department, which is affiliated with the Public Security Directorate. The numbers of visitors for this year are very much similar to those in previous years. It cannot be confirmed if their return is meant to settle down or spend the vacation, which is anywhere between 10 days and three months, depending on the nature of their work. Therefore, it is extremely difficult to speak about established and confirmed return."