GRM 2010 GRM 2011

Abstract Details

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Title of Paper:
Attracting and retaining expatriate workers in Qatar during an era of uncertainty: Would you stay or would you go?
Paper Proposal Text :
In Doha, Qatar, as in the other rapidly globalizing cities of the Gulf, a great experiment is underway. I am not referring to the world's tallest buildings, artificial islands or gigantic shopping malls. More impressive are the Gulf's strategies of creating global hubs for talent in order to attract the human capital needed for a successful post-oil economy. This experiment - as well as many of its short-term results - is far more spectacular than its overnight cities. Perhaps today it is time to evaluate this experiment, as we face the end of an oil boom, with $20 per barrel oil, on the horizon and neighboring parts of the Middle East erupting in chaos, more characterized by refugees exiting than global talent flowing in. Are oil and money alone enough to create permanent, self-sustaining hubs for global talent? If so, have they succeeded? Or are we set to face a mass exodus of global talent from the Gulf? What then?

Where has this experiment succeeded and where has it failed? In terms of success, let us look to the flows of people continuing to stream into Doha, Dubai and Abu Dhabi, with their still-booming real estate sectors, crowded streets and shopping malls. Here is a place where one can truly live the highly paid expatriate lifestyle, as well as work productively and collaborate with international colleagues, while enjoying a globalized social life in a cosmopolitan city. Yet, it is also a place where highly skilled expatriates undertake their work with a strong financial, social and familial commitment to their home countries, with the understanding that their work today is that of a temporary worker. In other words, even expatriate workers generally do not expect to become citizens of their host country, nor enjoy the same rights and freedoms associated with citizenship in their home countries. However, the Gulf countries have – through their diversification and global-urban development strategies – created very dynamic places to work, live and interact with other highly-skilled, temporary expatriates. It is a highly dynamic, fluid and mobile work environment.

Today, a number of questions exist regarding the determinants of attracting expatriates, and thus, the sustainability the Gulf's human capital strategies. How will the Gulf's ability to attract expatriates be impacted by increasing political instability in the broader Middle East, greater financial demands placed on expatriates with the VAT tax and higher utility bills? How will the demand for expatriates be impacted by rapidly falling oil prices, a weakening labor market, and rising demands for local job creation? In other words, what determines whether an expatriate worker stays or goes in today's climate?

Therefore, we are undertaking a nationally-representative survey of skilled expatriates in Qatar to determine what factors attracted them to Qatar in the first place, why they stay currently, and what might prompt them to leave in the future. Accompanying the collection of data on these determinants is a survey experiment which examines 5 different dimensions of the choice to remain in Qatar or considering leaving. These include rising or declining cost of living, stabilizing or deteriorating security situation, implementation of different VAT rates, increasing or decreasing household income, and changes to work-life balance. We are presenting each respondent with three different scenarios, comprising three randomized attributes. This experiment will give us an idea of the relative importance of each of these dimension by presenting them to respondents in a way that overcomes bias and simulates the complex nature of the choice. We hypothesize that there may be differences between people’s explicitly expressed preferences and what their choices reveal when given more concrete scenarios. The goal here is to get initial ideas about the project and then to more formally share results and findings at the fall workshop.