The crew that was escorting me was foreign-born. No local would perform this kind of work, locals hardly work at all. One of the guides came from Morocco, the other from India, and the third from Egypt. All were well educated and multi-lingual to entertain the international tourists visiting the United Arab Emirates during high season. June was low season, and hot. Everyone who could had already escaped the desert heat, and tourists stayed away until November, when the cool weather returned. I had two tour guides and a driver chauffeuring me around, and I loved it.
"What is so great about working in Dubai?" I asked. "People are usually paid ten times the amount of the average wage in their home country," was the reply. "A construction worker who earns $40 a month at home, if he works at all, makes $400 here."
"All workers, no matter what level or type of work, must be hired from outside the UAE," the Moroccan continued. "Construction workers are recruited by scouts traveling third world countries, mostly India. Office workers, marketing and banking professionals are either transferred by their companies with subsidiaries here, or find employment over the internet. They are always looking for teachers. Teaching and trades jobs happen mostly via the internet."
"So I couldn’t find myself a teaching job now while I’m here?" I asked.
"That’s right," was the reply, "And that way we have no unemployment, and hardly any crime, and Sheikh Mohammed wants to keep it this way," referring to Dubai’s ruler.
"There are five conditions for companies that employ foreign workers. Health insurance must be paid, the worker receives a one month vacation with pay to his home country every year and that includes the air fare, he gets one month salary annually toward retirement, free room and board for construction workers and domestics, and no taxes," said the driver.
"You hear so much bad publicity lately," added one of the guides, "It is not true. The poorer workers may live in what may be unacceptable conditions to some Westerners, but they still live better than in their own countries, and after three years they have enough money saved to build a house at home." The Moroccan guide had already built two houses in his home country in the ten years he had been working in Dubai. All three shared that they made a very comfortable living and liked living in the UAE.
"You said there was no crime," I said. "I see police everywhere, what is their job?" All three of them laughed. "The locals like being police. Many work at something, or they would die of boredom, and the money is good, really good. Easy job, hardly any crime, and that for five thousand or so a month. And then they can retire after fifteen years and earn eighty percent of their income."
"But there are some crimes," added the man from India, "People may not pay their debts. We have debtors’ prisons. Foreigners will go to jail if they don’t pay their debts, they also go to jail if they behave badly, like sex that is seen by the public, and no consulate can help them. It is a crime for a man and woman to live together without being married. If someone is caught dealing drugs, he goes to prison for fifteen years, for stealing they have an eight to ten year sentence. Murder and child prostitution result in death. Only foreigners commit these crimes. After they have served their sentence, and depending on the crime, they are branded between the eyes before they are deported to make sure they never return."
"Locals also have government jobs, and some work at the airport," added the Egyptian. "But they make a lot of money with sponsorships."
"What is that?" I asked.
"All foreign businesses must have local sponsors," he continued. "For a two thousand dollar registration fee a year a business can operate, no matter how large or small it is. Any local can be a sponsor. It is his job to make sure that all licenses are current and the books that required by the state, are correct. This takes him about six hours per year."
"Is it easy to open a business in Dubai?" was my question.
"Yes, it seems to be," replied the Moroccan. "You just have to find the sponsor. Many of the locals are really stretched thin. Look at how many foreign businesses we have here, and the few locals. And if they don’t do a good job with the papers, you can lose your license to operate."
We visited a museum and heritage site where women in local dress, long black abaias, veils, and head scarves, demonstrated weaving and crafts. It seemed so strange, realizing that these "locals" were foreign workers.
"We also have prostitution here," shared the driver later. "It is illegal, but with so many men here without families, the government knows they have to do something. So they recruit the prostitutes as hotel workers."
"But these women know that they are recruited to service men," added the Indian. "Everyone who comes to this country knows what they’re here for, there are no secrets. No one is lured under false pretenses, no one is lied to. Women from certain countries are known for their prostitution trade, and they are happy to come here. They get the five benefits too, and are checked by doctors on a regular basis."
I started to ask people at hotels, shopping centers, restaurants, and buses where they came from. It was amazing. Not a country seemed to be left out, from near or from far. The British were highest in numbers, then other European countries. Most of the construction workers were from India. Many Africans were in hotels. Everyone who dealt with the public spoke English.
The UAE is experiencing the recession just as the rest of the world. Many foreigners have left, many companies have closed down. They all have hope for the future. Dubai has the only stock exchange in the Middle East, it is a great financial center, and by all accounts, it will return bigger and better than before.