The expatriate community living in Bahrain demanded security, end of discrimination, smooth naturalization process and an east access to basic facilities like health, education and job opportunities.
This was the crux of the debate attended by over sixty foreign residents representing expatriate communities, business associations, religious groups, and cultural organisations sat together to share their thoughts on how to improve Bahrain.
Their suggestions covered a wide range of topics, from economic development and human rights to transparency in business. Recommendations from this session will be submitted to HM the King for his consideration along with the Dialogue outcomes.
Participants proposed a number of initiatives to improve foreign workers’ rights. These included recommendations to establish a minimum wage for workers and arrange payment of wages by bank transfer. Measures should be introduced requiring employers to register domestic workers and ensure foreign workers remain in possession of their passports in accordance with international standards. There were recommendations that expatriate women and spouses be entitled to the same rights as their Bahraini counterparts in terms of labour rules and medical care, with particular emphasis on maternity rights.
Representatives asked that permanent resident status be made available. They requested a review of citizenship rules to enable the children of long-term residents born in Bahrain to be given citizenship. They also asked to naturalise entire families who qualify, rather than individuals. Delegates underlined the importance of non-discrimination between Bahraini-born and naturalised citizens. They asked that their children be granted residency after the age of 18 so that they can legally remain with their guardian, and for permits for elderly dependents.
Representatives welcomed the fact that they can exercise their freedom of worship but noted that this should go hand-in-hand with the freedom to build and register a place of worship. Members of the Indian, Pakistan and Philippine community sought greater assurances of their personal safety and security in the wake of recent events, calling for compensation for those affected by the unrest.
Participants called for the establishment of a government one-stop-shop to deal specifically with the expatriate community and its concerns, in particular with regard to administrative issues. They called for all official communications to be available in the English language.
Participants put forward a number of detailed suggestions to improve the economic competitiveness of Bahrain and help attract more foreign direct investment. They called for the diversification of Bahrain’s economy through the development of its tourism, financial and services sectors. They suggested that the simplification of business visa requirements would help boost foreign investment. They also noted that the development of Bahrain’s transport and telecoms infrastructure would further stimulate investment from abroad. Some called for more transparency in regulations to ensure a more business-friendly environment. Others noted that commercial and industrial ties with other countries should be reinforced.
Delegates tabled a number of suggestions to ease the rules for land acquisition and ownership for foreign residents, which would in turn promote investment and business. At the same time, they requested a review of the current property development legislation, which some thought was biased in favour of the developer.
A number of suggestions focused on the young foreign residents and their integration in Bahraini society through education and community interaction, including basic Arabic in all schools, cooperation between Bahraini and foreign universities and more student exchanges, alongside cultural and sporting activities. Participants called for a greater emphasis on vocational education and training.