Kuwait eyes nationality quotas, family visa limits to reduce expat population

The country’s labour minister has said a number of measures are being pursued to balance the population



Kuwait is working on measures including nationality quotas, limits on family visas and tests for prospective hires to reduce the number of expats in the country, according to the country’s labour minister.

In an interview with Kuwait Times, minister of social affairs and labour and state minister for economic affairs Hind Al-Subaih outlined the measures and said the country would seek to “reduce or stop unskilled labour”.

Kuwaitis make up only 30 per cent of the country’s 4.4 million population, according to some estimates, and MPs have repeatedly called for the population to be rebalanced in recent years.

Read: Kuwaiti MPs call for limits on expat numbers

Subaih said rebalancing the country’s demographic structure to reduce the percentage of expats to 60 per cent or less could take “15 years at least”.

“We are not against expat labour in general, rather our problem is with those without degrees and who are untrained and unqualified, in addition to human traffickers who harmed Kuwait domestically and distorted its image abroad,” she was quoted as saying.

“There are many projects that need one person only, but the employer brings in 10 persons, and there are many jobs that can rely on technology such as guarding, cleaning and others.”

She denied the government was targeting one nationality specifically but would “place a quota for each nationality”.

“We are now working in more than one direction at the same time, as we are working on a quota for each nationality. We will also place new rules for family visas to limit any harm to the population structure and stop the residency of unskilled (marginal) labour,” she said.

An increase in the daily fine for residency violators from KD2 ($6.53) to KD4 ($13.06) and tests for expat workers before they are hired from their home countries are also planned, she revealed.

Read: Kuwaiti MP proposes expats pass tests to stay in the country

“Bringing in expat labour will be subject to tests in their countries before hiring them. The decision will be applicable in the coming days and the start will be with Egypt and India, as there are agreements with the two countries through non-profit international organisations to guarantee that no fees or commission will be imposed on workers.”

Speaking more broadly of the labour market, Al-Subaih said it was true Kuwaiti government sector employees often lacked motivation.

“I worked 30 years as an employee in various government departments, and after I became minister, I found many employees in my sectors do not work. But with direction and encouragement, they become very active,” she said.

She also revealed work was underway to scrap the country’s kafala sponsorship system, which links workers’ residence in the country to their employer.

Read: Rights group calls for end to Kuwait’s kafala system

“We are working with the interior ministry to apply the scrapping of the sponsor system gradually, starting with some professions such as doctors and engineers and those at their level. We are also studying making the state a sponsor, like with the domestic help company.”

Last year, the Expat Insider 2016 survey by InterNations ranked Kuwait the worst country in the world for expats, drawing criticism from Al-Subaih and MPs.

Read: Kuwaiti official criticises ‘worst nation for expats’ ranking

Some expats have complained that the country’s recent austerity measures – including increases to electricity, water and fuel prices – have targeted them specifically, with Kuwaitis exempt or offered compensation.

A tax on expat remittances and ban on recruiting expats in the public sector are reportedly also planned.

Read: Kuwait plans tax on expat remittances, privatisations and subsidy reforms

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