Manama: Kuwait is considering a move to reduce the number of foreigners in the country by imposing a quota based on nationality and a cap on the length of time expatriates can spend in the country.
The plan is being worked out by a special committee set up by the social affairs and labour ministry to address the issue of foreigners in Kuwait.
Kuwait, home to around two million foreigners, who make up two thirds of the total population, earlier this month said that it had plans to halve the number of expatriates working in the country within 10 years.
“The committee has requested all the ministries and state institutions to comment on its proposal to limit the presence of expatriates,” said Abdul Mohsin Al Mutair, the ministry undersecretary, as quoted by local daily Al Qabas.
“The proposal is based on three major issues and the official institutions have been invited to give their views on the possibility of introducing a quota system based on nationalities, limiting the number of unskilled labour and putting a cap on the number of years foreigners can spend in the country.
The cap would be five years for unskilled labour, seven years for average technical skills and 10 years for advanced skills, he said.
“We hope to receive the official comments and remarks within two weeks,” he said.
On March 19, Dhikra Al Rasheedi, minister of social affairs and labour, said that she was pushing for new measures to reduce the number of foreigners by 100,000 annually over the next 10 years.
“The strategy envisages bringing down the total number of expatriate workers to only one million in 10 years,” she told the Kuwait News Agency (Kuna). “The move is part of the ministry’s efforts to regulate the labour market, curb the phenomenon of marginal labour and restore the demographic equilibrium of the country.”
A major concrete step will be implemented on April 1 when the transfer of all forms of visit visas into work permits will be halted. However, foreigners whose applications have already been approved would not be affected by the decision, she said.
Most of the foreigners in Kuwait are Asians working in the construction and service sectors or are employed as domestic helpers.
Indians make up the largest community while Egyptians top the Arab numbers.
Kuwait and the other members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) — Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates — have for years depended on foreign labour, particularly in the booming construction sector, menial work and services.
Millions of expatriates, particularly unskilled workers from Pakistan, India and Bangladesh and Arabs from Egypt and Jordan have moved to the Gulf since the 1970s, lured by lucrative salaries and benefits.
Unskilled labourers and domestic helpers constitute around 85 per cent of the 13 million foreigners living in the Gulf states.
However, as their numbers surpassed those of the local populations, the situation turned into a challenge to the demographic balance and national identities.
Attempts by the GCC labour ministers to cap the presence of expatriates, citing grave security and unemployment-related concerns, were invariably defeated by the powerful business communities that claimed that they would put on hold several major development projects and would cause the collapse of the economy.