Kapil Kajal | Jul 27, 2020 | 5 min read
After working for 12 years in Kuwait, Mabiya Kadaba, who hails from India, fears for his job. In the first week of July, Kuwait’s National Assembly approved a draft law, which proposes a cap on the number of expatriates in the country. The proposed law is likely to change the country’s population ratio in favour of Kuwaitis.
The largest impact of the law will be on the Indian expatriate community, and according to the bill, the Indian expatriate community should not exceed 15% of the national population, which will force about 800,000 Indians to leave the country out of the 1.45 million Indians in Kuwait.
Kuwaitis want their children to get a job as a large number of Kuwaiti students are graduating every year but not getting any jobs, said Kadaba.
Speaking to the media, Prime Minister Sheikh Sabah Al Khaled Al Sabah mentioned that the country would like the number of foreign workers to drop from 70% of the population to 30%. Foreigners account for nearly 3.4 million of Kuwait’s 4.8 million people, and that’s a “big imbalance, and we have a future challenge to redress this imbalance,” PM Sabah told the media. The proposed bill would force about 2.5 million expats to leave the country.
Kuwait is also a top source of remittances for India. In 2018, India received close to $4.8 billion from Kuwait as remittances. With its own citizens turning into a minority, Kuwait has been working to reduce its dependence on foreign workers.
The coronavirus and the slump in oil prices have also been contributing factors owing to which the state-owned Kuwait Petroleum Corporation and its subsidiaries said in June that the employment of foreign workers would be banned for the year 2020-21.
Ali Mohamed, a researcher with migrant-rights.org, a migrant rights organisation, told NAR that the approval of the draft law doesn’t mean that the bill will go into force, and it will now be referred to Kuwait’s Human Resources Development Committee, which will study the proposal before referring it to the National Assembly for a vote.
He said that proposals on nationality quotas and mass deportation of migrants are part of a regular discourse in Kuwait that has existed ever since the influx of migrant workers to Kuwait following the discovery of oil. Such proposals and discussions generally resurface during general election years or during a crisis, such as the Iraqi invasion in the 1990s, he added.
It is unlikely to go into effect given that it would cause significant disruption to Kuwait’s economy, which is already severely affected by the pandemic and oil price crash, Ali said. The proposal to set nationality quotas and reduce the migrant population has already attracted pushback from real estate and business owners, he added.
On July 9, India’s foreign ministry spokesperson said, "We share excellent bilateral ties with Kuwait and our ties are deeply rooted in our people to people linkages. We have shared our expectation with Kuwait and they will take into consideration while taking further decisions."
Other countries also impacted
Apart from Indians, expatriates from Bangladesh, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Phillippines and Egypt will also be affected. Bagshal Mukto, who is from Bangladesh and works as a driver in Kuwait City, stated that COVID-19 pandemic affected his earnings and is now worried that he’ll be forced out of the country. He mentioned that if he’s sent back, it’ll be difficult for him to start from scratch.
Mohammed Tashani, an electrician who hails from Bahrain, lamented the law saying that the government brought this law during the time of pandemic when several people have already lost their jobs.
Hailing from Pakistan, Asghar Khan, who works with a construction company, stated that he has been on unpaid leave for the last three months as his company told him that they can’t afford everyone at once.
“My family is in Pakistan and they rely on me for money, which I am unable to send for the last three months, and now this bill has created more problems for me. I am very afraid and what my kids will eat if I am sent back,” Asghar said.
After COVID-19 hit the nation, almost 400,000 people, including 200,000 Indians, left Kuwait owing to job loss, non-renewal of visas or curbs on visas for expatriates over the age of 60, Kadaba said.
“This is not yet finalised, even if Kuwait does it, they will do it slowly in five-six years, not suddenly. They need time to replace all posts which are currently filled by expats,” he added.
LR Gopal, who worked in Kuwait for 17 years as a fleet accounts supervisor at United Arab Shipping, said, “The Middle East, especially Kuwait, cannot run without expatriates.”
He said even if the bill is passed in the National Assembly, it can be reversed by the Emir’s decree. He mentioned that even if they went forward with this, the expats will be brought back as Kuwaitis won’t engage in jobs like plumbing and sanitation.
He added, “There are companies in which no Kuwaitis are working because Kuwaitis demand more money and do less work. Members of the National Assembly own 90% of the companies and they wouldn’t want to incur losses.”
Mohammed Nayeem, an expert in Middle East politics, told NAR that in many Gulf countries, the government is under pressure to hire locals. Saudi Arabia, after the Gulf War, started ‘Saudisation’ many years back, now other Gulf countries are trying to implement hire locals policy, he added.
“Since Indians has a good reputation in these countries, the government can negotiate and must work to accommodate Indians in those countries,” he added.
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