A worker of Kuwait Oil Company adjusts the flow of crude oil into a gathering centre. Image Credit: AP

Kuwait will no longer hire expatriates for jobs in its oil sector as the OPEC member moves to reduce the number of foreigners in the country.

Non-Kuwaiti nationals won't be hired at Kuwait Petroleum Corp., the main state-run energy producer, and its subsidiaries for 2020-2021, Kuwait News Agency reported, citing Oil Minister Khaled Al-Fadhel.

Kuwait doesn’t want to be an expat-majority nation anymore.

Kuwait's prime minister last week said the country's expatriate population should be more than halved to 30% of the total, as the coronavirus pandemic and a slump in oil prices send shudders through Gulf economies.

Foreigners account for nearly 3.4 million of Kuwait's 4.8 million population, and "we have a future challenge to redress this imbalance," Sheikh Sabah Al Khalid Al Sabah said.

Global crisis

With the economy under strain from the coronavirus pandemic and a slump in oil prices, the comments followed a renewed push by lawmakers

Al Fadhel, according to KUNA, vowed not to stand "hand-cuffed" towards those wanting to lay off Kuwaiti workers from oil companies. Still, he pointed out that COVID-19 is a global crisis that has impacted the whole world.

"The price of the [oil] barrel dropped during this crisis due to the market glut and the decrease in demand," he was quoted as saying. However, he cited signs of recovery in the oil market, saying that prices have picked up.

"The oil sector should not be the only source for income," Al Fadhel told a parliamentary meeting with owners of small and medium-scale enterprises. The minister underlined the importance of the private sector's engagement in boosting the Kuwaiti economy.

Quota system for employing foreigners

In recent weeks, several Kuwaiti public figures have accused expatriates, mainly the unskilled labour, of straining the country’s health facilities and increasing the COVID-19 threat.

Late last month, a number of Kuwaiti lawmakers presented a draft bill proposing a quota system for employing foreigners as one way to redress the demographic imbalance in the country.

According to the proposed quota system, the numbers of Indian workers should not exceed 15 per cent of the overall Kuwaiti population while those of Egyptian expatriates should stand at a maximum 10 per cent. Indians and Egyptians make up the largest foreign communities in Kuwait.

The authors of the draft said that the demographic imbalance in Kuwait has spawned problems in recent years, becoming more conspicuous and serious since the outbreak of the novel coronavirus.

Noting that the numbers of some foreign communities are nearing those of Kuwaitis, the lawmakers said their draft law sets the maximum limits for each community versus the Kuwaiti population and bans bringing any individual from such communities into Kuwait if their numbers have exceeded their designated quotas.

In April, the Kuwaiti government unveiled a pardon plan for illegal migrants in the country to encourage them to leave the country. The pardon offers the illegal expatriates exemptions from legal punishment and free home return flights. Thousands of expats have reportedly applied to be covered by the amnesty and ensuing repatriation.