New Delhi: In a trend that may work adversely on remittances to India and the region, Gulf nations are now increasingly hiring Africans over Indians, Pakistanis, Bangladeshis and Nepalis, a move that can slow down the migration boom from the subcontinent since the early 1990s.'

Migration from Africa to the Gulf region will increase significantly in coming years,' said Dilip Ratha, an expert on migration and remittance issues with the World Bank. 'The Africans are giving tough competition to our expatriates,' Ratha told IANS.

He said governments of most Gulf countries have also directed companies and institutions to diversify the source of workers. 'They are becoming very sensitive to diversity after the recent unrest in some of the Arab states,' Ratha added over phone from Geneva.

Indians are the largest expatriate community in most of the Gulf countries and are said to number around six million. In some Gulf nations like the UAE and Qatar, the population of Indian expatriates is higher than the indigenous population.

Migration from the Indian subcontinent to the Gulf countries increased exponentially after the oil boom that started in the early 1990s. 

Ratha said even though most Gulf firms and administrators feel comfortable dealing with expatriates from the Indian subcontinent, cost also is a major factor. 'Indian workers are demanding higher pays now because of better opportunities back home.'

'African governments are also strengthening their ties with the Gulf states and pushing for liberal labour laws,' said the expert, who is otherwise based out of the World Bank's headquarters in Washington.

'In Africa, the migration is mostly intra-regional. Almost two-thirds of international migration from Africa is within Africa,' Ratha said. 'As a result, remittance flows to African countries have remained largely unaffected due to global slowdown.'

Despite the crises in North Africa and the difficult situation in Europe, the US and the Gulf region, remittance flows to Sub-Saharan Africa are estimated to have increased by 7.4 percent in 2011, according to a World Bank report.

'Traditionally, Africans have been less sensitive to what is happening to economies and job markets outside. So remittances also largely remain unaffected because of external factors. But the things are likely to change as they are now moving outside Africa.'

India otherwise ranks first in terms of inward remittances from diaspora. According to World Bank data, remittances flow to India is expected to increase to $58 billion in 2011, compared to around $55 billion in the previous year.

(Agencies)