Manama: Kuwait is planning to halve the number of foreigners working in the country within 10 years.

Currently around two million expatriates, mainly Asians in the construction and service sectors, live in the northern Arabian Gulf country where the total population is estimated to be around three million..

However, Dhikra Al Rasheedi, minister of social affairs and labour, said that measures would soon be taken to reduce the number of foreigners by 100,000 annually over the next ten years.

“The strategy envisages bringing down the total number of expatriate workers to only one million in 10 years,” Dhikra told 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,” she said.

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.

The minister who was given the sensitive portfolio in December following the latest parliamentary elections said that her ministry has been linked electronically with the commerce and industry ministry and Kuwait Municipality for the issue and that the Kuwait Chamber of Commerce has been tasked with defining the legal job descriptions of businessmen.

Dhikra said that hiring workers would be restricted to Kuwaiti and other Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) business people and that the recruitment would be from the locally available pool.

A special inspection team had been formed to make sure employers were fully committed to private sector labour regulations, she said.

The GCC, made up of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, has for years depended on foreign labour, particularly in the booming construction sector, menial work and services.

Attempts by the labour ministers to cap the presence of expatriates, citing security and unemployment-related concerns, have been defeated by the powerful business communities that warned of a collapse of the economy.