Kuwait approves draft law on expat quota; move may reduce strength of Indian community by up to 700,000
The legal and legislative committee of Kuwait’s National Assembly decided on July 2 that the draft law was in line with the Constitution and laws.Updated: Jul 06, 2020 19:13 IST
A Kuwaiti parliamentary committee has approved a draft law to set a quota system for expatriates that, if it is passed by the National Assembly, could reduce the strength of the Indian community in the West Asian country by up to 700,000.
The legal and legislative committee of Kuwait’s National Assembly decided on July 2 that the draft law was in line with the Constitution and laws. The panel also decided to refer the bill to another committee that will study all legislation related to expatriates with the aim of cutting their numbers, Kuwait Times reported.
According to the Indian embassy’s website, Kuwait is currently home to 920,000 Indians. The draft bill proposes the number of Indians – the largest foreign community in Kuwait – must not exceed 15% of the population of Kuwaitis, currently at 1.45 million. If the bill is enacted, a little more than 700,000 Indians will have to leave the country.
The bill has come at a time when the Kuwaiti government is grappling with a serious downturn in its economy due to the reduced demand for oil amid the Covid-19 crisis and a growing clamour among parliamentarians for reducing the number of expatriates.
During a meeting with editors of local newspapers on June 3, Kuwait’s Prime Minister Sheikh Sabah Khaled al-Hamad al-Sabah said the country is facing a “big challenge” in addressing the population structure, with Kuwaitis making up only 30% of the total population of 4.8 million.
“The ideal population structure is to have Kuwaitis being 70% and non-Kuwaitis 30%, so we have a big challenge in the future which is to address the discrepancy in population,” he was quoted as saying by state-run Kuna news agency.
The issue should be handled in phases till Kuwait reaches a “final adjustment to the population in future”, he said, adding the government is keen on cooperating with Parliament on this issue.
The developments are being closely followed by the external affairs ministry, though people familiar with developments said on condition of anonymity the draft law has so far only been cleared by a parliamentary panel. Moreover, they pointed out the bill was proposed by only five MPs.
The total strength of Kuwait’s National Assembly is 65, including 50 directly elected members.
Kuwait Times reported that hundreds of thousands of Indians leaving the country, if the bill is approved, would be “an impossible task by all means”.
Another report in the Kuwait Times quoted interior minister Anas Al-Saleh as saying that a separate draft law on amending the residency law will be submitted to the National Assembly within two weeks as Parliament prepares to complete legislation to reduce the number of expatriates within a few months.
This draft law calls for Kuwait to benefit from neighbouring and advanced countries with the aim of encouraging only those expatriates who are needed in the country, he said.
National Assembly speaker Marzouq Al-Ghanem also told Kuwait TV that he and a group of lawmakers will submit yet another draft law calling for a phased reduction of expatriates. He contended that 1.3 million of the 3.35 million expatriates “are either illiterate or can merely read and write”, and are not the type of people Kuwait needs. He also said 100,000 foreign workers are illiterate.
Ghanem said the National Assembly intends to complete the population structure legislation before the end of its term in October.
Experts questioned the viability of the move, noting that expatriate workers from India and other countries had played a major role in building the infrastructure and services of Kuwait.
Former ambassador Talmiz Ahmad, who served extensively in West Asia, including in Kuwait, said the move appeared to be driven “more by emotions rather than good sense” following the economic crisis due to the pandemic.
“These workers have gone on legal work contracts and with visas, which makes the state party to their recruitment. The workers went because there is a need for them. It is demeaning to describe these blue collar, semi-skilled and skilled workers as illiterate. These are the people who transformed Kuwait from a desert sheikhdom into a modern state,” he said.
“It appears the move is driven more by the downturn, which is temporary. It is a pipe dream without any understanding of the ground realities.”
The Indian population of 920,000 in Kuwait includes nearly 28,000 employed in the government sector and more than 426,000 in the private sector. Their annual remittances to India are about $4.8 billion.