In the late 1980s, Jordan experienced more than one form of migration. Large segments of the labor force worked abroad, and rural-urban migration continued unabated. In rural areas, substantial numbers of men were employed outside the village or were engaged in military service.
Jordan often has been referred to by economists as a laborexporting country. With the oil boom of the 1970s in the Persian Gulf countries and Saudi Arabia, substantial numbers of the welleducated and skilled labor force, from both rural and urban areas, temporarily emigrated for employment. Government figures for 1987 stated that nearly 350,000 Jordanians were working abroad, a remarkably high number for such a small domestic population. Approximately 160,900 Jordanians resided in Saudi Arabia alone. Most of the Jordanians working abroad were of Palestinian origin.
The typical Jordanian migrant was a married male between twenty and thirty-nine years of age. His education level was higher than that of the average person on the East Bank. More than 30 percent of those working abroad were university graduates, and 40 percent were in professional positions. The average stay abroad ranged from 4.5 years to 8 years and the attraction of work abroad was the higher salary. Unlike most male migrants in the Middle East, Jordanian migrants had a greater tendency to take their families with them to their place of employment.
Migration from Jordan was not a recent phenomenon. As early as the late nineteenth century, Jordanian villagers were migrating abroad. Migration abroad since the 1960s has generally been to Saudi Arabia and other oil-producing Gulf states. Although most of those migrant workers came from urban areas, more data is available on the rural migrants.
The authors of a 1985 study of the effects of migration on a village in the northwest, noted that more than 10 percent of families had at least one member working abroad and 32 percent of male heads of household were serving in the armed forces. Many others held jobs in nearby urban centers and commuted between the village and their place of employment. Of village migrants to the oil-producing states, more than half were employed in the public sector, particularly in teaching and in the military security forces. As of the late 1980s, both of these areas faced a decline in employment if the oil-producing states continued to reduce their foreign labor force.
Labor migration in the 1970s and 1980s did not necessarily indicate a migrant's alienation from the village or a weakening of his ties with fellow villagers. Nearly 75 percent of rural migrants had a relative or village friend in the place of employment abroad. In fact, migrants tended to facilitate the process for others, acting as points of contact for individuals who migrated later. Migration did not radically alter the authority of absent males in their households, whether rural or urban. Wives made many daily household decisions, but, in most cases, major decisions awaited consultation with the husband. The flow of remittances to the village was also a strong indication of the continuing ties between a migrant and his family.
Remittances were used overwhelmingly by both rural and urban migrants to pay off debts and then to invest in residential property. The many new villa-style houses built in and around Amman and Irbid and in the villages reflected the large numbers of men working abroad and the presence of "oil money." In the northwest highlands, the purchase of property and the subsequent building of housing reduced the area of cultivable land. In contrast, in the Jordan Valley remittances figured prominently in investments in agricultural technologies. Returning rural migrants resided for the most part in the village and worked in Irbid, casting doubt on projections that international labor migration would contribute significantly to further urbanization in the Amman area.
Since the 1970s, increasing numbers of villagers had migrated to Amman. Most of them had remained poor and had shallow roots in the city. A significant land shortage, lack of job opportunities in rural areas, and the availability of education and health resources in Amman had sent a steady stream of villagers toward the city, overcrowding its housing and overtaxing its resources. Urban housing for the city's poor was neither readily available nor affordable. Rural migrants, however, maintained close ties with their natal villages. On Fridays (the official day off in Jordan) and during holidays, the villages were witness to family reunions of men who worked in the cities during the week and returned home at week's end.
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