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Calls to reduce expatriates; but whom to cull
October 8, 2016, 5:23 pm

Since the beginning of the year a record total of 1,023 files of employers were put under investigation by the Public Authority for Manpower for alleged labor law violations.

According to Minister of Social Affairs and Labor Hind Al-Subaih of the total labor infringement cases, 325 were related to failure of employers to provide jobs to those they had recruited from abroad. They condemned this practice and termed it a widespread method used in human trafficking into the country.

Elaborating on this topic, the minister clarified that there were 1.6 million expatriate employees working in Kuwait’s private sector, including 550,000 Indians, 450,000 Egyptians, 150,000 Bangladeshis, and 80,000 Filipinos. The number of Kuwaitis employed in the private sector was 65,000, or around 4 percent. In the public sector, the employment trend was in the opposite direction, with 75 percent of the nearly 400,000 jobs filled by Kuwaitis and 25 percent by expatriates. Meanwhile, according to the Central Statistics Bureau (CSB), the domestic sector employed over 600,000 expatriates.

These statistics, and remarks by Minister Al-Subiah on human trafficking, come against strident calls by some legislators for a cap on the number of expatriates in the country. One lawmaker called for deporting around 280,000 expatriates per year for the next five years in order to introduce a demographic balance between citizens and expatriates in Kuwait.

Cutting down the number of expatriates would ease the pressure on local infrastructure and would also help local Kuwaiti men and women find employment opportunities in both the public and private sectors, said the MP.

Other suggestions from parliamentarians include imposing five-year terms for employees; retiring those aged over 50 from public sector jobs; increasing fees imposed on expatriates for services such as medical and residency. One even recommended sorting expatriates based on their income and profession and compelling them to undergo mandatory tests to confirm their qualifications in order to remain in the country.

 “It is not logical to have the number of expats threefold that of citizens, and most of them are unskilled and uneducated, which poses a security as well as social and economic concern,” one MP lamented.

There is no doubt that there is an evident demographic imbalance in the country, not only between expatriates and citizens, but also among the different nationalities that make up the total foreign population in the country. Official statistics from the Public Authority for Civil Information (PACI) show that of the total 4,373,386 people in the country, 3,043,445 (69%) were expatriates (69%) and 1,329,941 (31%) were Kuwaitis.

Further more, figures from the CSB show that of the more than 3 million expatriates hailing from 120 nations, the overwhelming majority were from just seven countries. In the forefront was the Indian expatriate community with 895,348 members followed by Egyptian community with 586,387 members and the Filipino community in third place with 241,268 members.

The Bangladeshi community accounted for 198,151 members coming in fourth, followed by Syrian community with 145,328 members, the Pakistani community with 109,853 members and Sri Lankan community in seventh place with 99,858 members.

While these numbers include those working legally in the country with jobs in public or private sectors and their family members, but not those staying in the country illegally with expired residence permits.

Even if the more than 150,000 people without legal permits were found and removed from the country that would not shift the demographic imbalance appreciably.
To adjust the two-third to one-third ratio between expatriates and citizens more drastic measures would be needed. Obviously, the 600,000 people in the domestic service will be required to maintain Kuwaiti lifestyles.

Similarly, the nearly one million employed in the public sector, mainly as professionals in the education and healthcare sectors, will be essential until suitable replacements for them can be found. This leaves the 1.6 million employed by the private sector, but these jobs are primarily low paid workers employed in jobs that Kuwaitis are unwilling to engage in. So, who do you cull to maintain the demographic balance is a key question that remains to be answered.

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