Unskilled and semi-skilled migrant workers from the Arab region have been filling labor shortages in Jordan for decades, shaping its labor market and sustaining its economy. Although Arab nationals still account for a majority of migrant workers in Jordan today, the migration flow to Jordan has changed in recent years with the growing importance of non-Arab migrants from Asia.
Jordan’s census data suggest that the non-Arab Asian population’s share of the total foreign population more than doubled from 7 percent in 1994 to 15 percent in 2004. Among economically active migrants, non-Arab Asians comprised an even larger share, reaching nearly 30 percent by 2004.1A significant proportion of this new migration flow from Asia comes from Sri Lanka and the Philippines, which together account for nearly a third of the total.
The fact that Jordan needs immigrant labor suggests that there is not a bulge of youth in that country who are otherwise unemployed. The fact that other Arab countries cannot fill the jobs suggests that they, in turn, do not have an excess of young people to send off to a neighboring country. The only caveat is that a large fraction of these Asian immigrants are women engaged in domestic labor. "Filipinos and Sri Lankans who received work permits in 2009 were mostly female." It is likely that cultural prohibitions within the Arab world prevent Arab women from taking jobs such as these, and so women from other societies are recruited instead. Another possibility, of course, is that governments and recruiters recognize that it is easier to exploit and send home people from more distant places than it is to do with your neighbors.