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Dubai's expat Indians: The world's most productive foreign workers

From Leone Lakhani, CNN
updated 9:55 PM EDT, Sun May 18, 2014
  • The UAE is home to almost 2 million Indian ex-pats
  • Many come to earn money they send back to family in India
  • More than $71 billion was transferred to India from overseas workers last year, World Bank says

Watch Marketplace Middle East every week on CNN. This week the show focuses on the many cultural and trade links between India and the United Arab Emirates. Click here for the show times.

Dubai, UAE (CNN) -- Dubai Creek was once the heart the Gulf emirate's business activity, where boats and barges sailed along transporting goods and people to foreign ports.

From electronics to sporting goods, the Creek is still a vibrant trading base, but far from the integral shipping hub it once was.

For centuries this is where all Dubai's international business happened. Much of the goods bought and sold here went to India, which over time became the United Arab Emirates' largest trading partner.

In the 1970s, trade between the two countries amounted to $180 million a year. Today, this figure is closer to $75 billion.

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With growing business ties, many Indians have moved to Dubai in search of work and opportunity -- but home is never far from their mind.

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Shekhar Patni is one of almost 2 million Indians working in the UAE.

He moved here more than 30 years ago and decided it was a good place to set up his jewelery business. His company has since grown to be valued at more than $20 million.

"It's the culture, the mixed culture of India and the Middle East," Patni says on why he decided to settle in Dubai. "This is the more important for us. And it is very close to India."

As his native country awaits the outcome of parliamentary elections, Patni is watching closely even though he doesn't have a vote.

Patni says he sends a huge portion of his earnings home for his family, business and for investments.

He's far from alone in this endeavor.

Krishnan Ramachandran runs a wealth management group in Dubai that manages $400 million worth of assets belonging to Indians living in the UAE. The majority is re-invested in India.

"We cater to a wide range of clients starting from the person who's at the bottom of the pyramid to somebody at the top of the pyramid," said Ramachandran.

"It's always the aspiration of any expat Indian coming to this region to save and send money, as much as possible, back home," he added."On an average the target is between 40% to 50% of their earnings here."

That's because most of his clients intend to go back one day, he says.

One such client is construction worker, Mukesh Sharma.

"I'm in Dubai for the last 10 years," Sharma said. "We keep transferring the money, you know to exchanges and all. I plan to go after maybe two, three years.

"That's my plan right now. Then I'll go and settle down (back in India)."

Remittances from overseas Indians like Sharma amounted to $71 billion last year, according to the World Bank, more than any other country in the world.

That gives Dubai's Indian ex-pats tremendous economic clout in the Gulf emirate and back home -- even without a vote in the elections.

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