NEW DELHI: Migrant workers are having it hard, in India and in Kuwait. As many as 8 lakh Indians could be forced to leave Kuwait if the West Asian country approves the expat quota bill which was deemed constitutional by Kuwait’s parliament on Monday. Here is all you need to know about the changes undergoing in Kuwait’s expat policy and how it affects Indians:
Kuwait’s population problem
Kuwait wants to reduce the number of foreign workers in the country in order to balance the population proportion of Kuwaitis and expats. As of now, the current population of Kuwait is 4.3 million, with Kuwaitis making up 1.3 million of the population, and expats accounting for 3 million.
To solve the problem of Kuwaitis becoming a minority in their own country, last month, Kuwait’s Prime Minister Sheikh Sabah Al Khalid Al Sabah proposed reducing the number of expats from 70 per cent to 30 per cent of the population.
A comprehensive draft law calling for a gradual reduction of expats in Kuwait was announced to be submitted in the Assembly by the Speaker Marzouq Al-Ghanem, as per a media statement.
Al-Ghanem had said that Kuwait has a “real problem in its population structure” as 70 per cent are expats. As per the Speaker, a major concern is that 1.3 million of the 3.35 million expats “are either illiterate or can merely read and write.”
“I understand that we recruit doctors and skilled manpower and not unskilled labourers. This is an indication that there is a distortion. Visa traders have contributed in increasing this figure,” Ghanem said.
The expat quota bill
The expat quota bill intends to introduce a ‘quota system’ for employing foreigners in Kuwait in order to address what the Kuwaiti lawmakers term as a ‘demographic imbalance’.
The draft law that the Kuwaiti lawmakers intend to file in the Assembly will propose to impose a cap on the number of expats. The purpose is to gradually decrease the number of expats by bringing it down to 70 per cent this year, 65 per cent next year and so on.
The bill specifies country-wise caps designating a quota for how many people of a certain nationality can be allowed to work in Kuwait.
For example: The draft law states the quota for two of its largest expatriate communities—Indians and Egyptians.
The Indian expatriate community, which is the largest expat group in Kuwait, should not exceed 15 per cent of the national population, as per the expat bill. It also calls for reducing the number of Egyptians, who form the second largest expatriate community, to 10 per cent of Kuwait’s total population.
The bill was deemed constitutional by the National Assembly’s legal and legislative committee on Monday and will now be transferred to the respective committee so that a comprehensive plan is created.
How does the bill affect Indian expats
According to the Indian embassy in Kuwait, there are about 28,000 Indians working for the Kuwaiti Government in various jobs like nurses, engineers in national oil companies and a few as scientists.
The majority of Indians (5.23 Lakh) are deployed in private sectors. In addition, there are about 1.16 lakh dependents. Out of these, there are about 60,000 Indian students studying in 23 Indian schools in the country.
If the bill becomes a law, it will reduce the Indian presence in Kuwait by 7-8 lakhs and will prove to be a big blow to India’s remittance economy which is considerably dependent on Gulf nations.
Kuwait is a top source of remittances for India. In 2018, India received nearly USD 4.8 billion from Kuwait as remittances.
Why Kuwait is introducing the bill now
The anti-expat sentiment in the Gulf nations has been a recent trend which has been exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic and a slump in oil prices.
The authors of the Kuwaiti draft for example said that the demographic imbalance in Kuwait has spawned problems in recent years and has got serious since the pandemic.
In April this year, the Kuwaiti government had also announced a ‘pardon plan’ for illegal migrants to encourage them to leave Kuwait. The pardon offers the illegal expatriates exemption from punishment and provides free home return flights.
As per local media reports, thousands of expats have reportedly applied to be covered by the amnesty and ensuing repatriation.
Last month, MP Osama Al Chahin had tabled a proposal in the National Assembly to “Kuwaitise” all permanent and temporary advisory jobs in the legislature.
The protectionist sentiments found a larger support base as foreigners have accounted for the majority of Kuwait’s Covid-19 cases as the disease spread among migrant workers living in overcrowded housing.
According to the latest data from Johns Hopkins University, more than 49,000 cases of coronavirus have been reported in Kuwait.
In recent weeks, several Kuwaiti public figures demanded to curtail the number of expatriates accusing them of straining the health facilities.