According to U.N. estimates, there are about twenty-five million migrant workers in the Gulf, the majority of them construction workers from the Indian subcontinent. (Migrants also work as doctors, nurses, accountants, cleaners, and beauticians.) Drawn by wages that are as much as three times higher than what they can earn at home, foreign laborers send back more than a hundred billion dollars a year to their families. It is not uncommon to hear rags-to-riches stories, such as that of B. R. Shetty, who tells of arriving in the Emirates, in 1973, as a young pharmacist with “a mere couple of dollars,” and is now the billionaire owner of one of the largest Emirati health-care firms.

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