As Kuwaiti economy has slowed down that led to unemployment amongst the local population. It is also evident that there has been hype and rhetoric against expatriate workers amongst the local population.
By Prof Anisur Rahman
Kuwait’s National Assembly committee has recently approved a draft expat quota bill in seeking to reduce the number of foreign workers from Kuwait. The Prime Minister Sheikh Sabah Al Khalid Al Sabah proposed to reduce the number of expats from 70% to 30% of 4.3 million populations in the country. The bill has been introduced mainly on account of addressing a slump in oil prices and the coronavirus pandemic. As Kuwaiti economy has slowed down that led to unemployment amongst the local population. It is also evident that there has been hype and rhetoric against expatriate workers amongst the local population. As a result, lawmakers and government officials have called for gradually reducing the number of foreigners in Kuwait. There are currently about 3 million expatriate population, whereas Kuwaitis are merely making up 1.3 million of the total population in the country. It is pointed out that there is a serious problem in population structure where more than two-thirds of the population are expatriates. In order to address this serious issue, the draft law has been brought that will have to impose a cap on the number of expats, whose numbers must go down gradually. It is said that if this year, the composition of expatriates is about 70%, next year this number will decrease to 65% and so on. It is further noted by the speaker of the Kuwaiti Assembly that the great majority of expatriates are either illiterate or can merely read and write that is quite disappointing. He underlined that highly skilled personnel like doctors, engineers, IT Professionals are recruited but not unskilled labourers. This clearly indicates that the visa traders have contributed to increasing the number of migrants in the country.
It is interesting to note that in Kuwait the size of the expatriate population is about 3 million, of which the Indian community constitutes about 1.45 million, the largest expatriate community in the country. This is almost half of the expatriate population in Kuwait. If the Expat Bill becomes the law, India too will be severely affected as this may force about 8, 00,000 Indians to leave Kuwait. In accordance with this Bill, Indians should not exceed 15% of the total population in Kuwait. Consequently, it would substantially reduce the number of remittances flowing into India. Kuwait is considered to be one of the major sources of remittances for India. It is found that India received nearly $4.8 billion from Kuwait as remittances in 2018. This is quite a huge amount that came from Kuwait. To my view, this seems not practicable as Kuwait is largely depending on expatriate workers who are engaged in every sector Kuwaiti economy. There is a need for expatriate workers in the long term as Kuwait has to maintain the pace of development. The country needs skilled human resources; hence Kuwait has to depend on expatriates for the sustenance of its several ongoing projects. Moreover, it is known that India has excellent relations with all Gulf Cooperation Council countries. This austerity measures have been taken in order to address the immediate issue of the local population. It is also observed that Indian workers are preferred by the Gulf states due to their hard work, sincerity and non-involvement in any political activities in the host Gulf countries. It is also reported by the Indian embassy in Kuwait that 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. It is important to note that the majority of Indians (5.23 lakh) are employed 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. Private sectors have to consider their own economic wisdom while deciding the employees.
This kind of localisation policy has been brought by many Gulf States but has never been successful in reducing the size of expatriate workers in the GCC countries. The several studies show the number of Indian community has consistently been growing up that has reached about 8.5 Million. These Gulf States sometimes take these austerity measures in order to pacify the local population. The six countries that make up the Gulf Cooperation Council are Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman and Qatar. They host the majority of the estimated 23 million migrant workers living in the Arab states, most under the kafala system that binds them to the employer as reported by Amnesty International. The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries are in fact emerging as one of the major sources of the destination of millions of immigrants especially from the South Asian countries such as India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and Pakistan and now Nepal. The six GCC countries together constitutes over more than 52 per cent of the non-nationals in their population. It has been noticed in the last few decades that made new provisions of Immigration policies to protect the welfare of the local national population and control the outflow of the remittances to other countries. But this is not happening as it was expected that there would be the impact of immigration policies of GCC countries directly or indirectly on the size, flow, stock, trend, magnitude, and characteristics of immigrants. The size and volume of non-nationals are still increasing. It is also evident that the India-Gulf migration has emerged as the second-largest employment migration corridor in the world. The six GCC states host almost 30 per cent Indian community of the total expatriate in the region.
We can conclude by saying that the presence of Indian workers is not going to be affected in the Gulf countries especially in Kuwait in the long term. However, Indian workers are to be returned to India due to the present global crisis created by Covid-19 Pandemic. India should be ready to bring back them and use their skills for national development in our country. Again there will an opportunity soon after the crisis gets over. India must use our human resource by providing appropriate skills and training that could meet the requirement of the labour market in India and abroad in the coming days.
( The author is Director, UGC HRDC, Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi. Views expressed are personal.)