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The Hidden Cost of Migrant Labor

What It Means to Be a Temporary Person in the Gulf

A canceled work visa to the United Arab Emirates for a guest worker from India, September 2015 Lee Hoagland / Redux

I was recently in Berlin to give a talk about my book, Temporary People, to a roomful of scholars whose work focuses on the countries of the Persian Gulf. Set in the United Arab Emirates, my fiction explores the lives of people like my parents, men and women who left their homes in the southern Indian state of Kerala in the 1970s to work abroad. It is steeped in the South Asian lingo of much of the UAE’s immigrant population. My stories dwell on the consequences of migration to the Gulf, on what that movement of people does to both home and host countries, to languages, and to families.

The day before the event, I had dinner with my European hosts. They surprised me by introducing themselves as “temporary people,” too, transplants from different countries and marginalized communities in Europe, now living and working in the largest economy of

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