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.
Data as of December 1989