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Kuwait opens a massive can of worms
January 17, 2014, 11:00 am
Visa fraud on a giant scale could be its biggest challenge since the Gulf War, says Shane McGinley

Kuwait celebrated its golden jubilee in 2012 with a massive fireworks display which was only recently overtaken by Dubai’s New Year’s Eve record-breaking extravaganza.

While the Gulf state has avoided the sort of Arab Spring violence which has beset Bahrain, Egypt and parts of Oman, it has struggled to gain real long-term political stability. The government and parliament have fallen in and out of power and political scandals have been rife.

However, the Kuwait has now been beset with a scandal that could be its biggest challenge since the Gulf War in the 1990s.

More than 40,000 foreign workers in Kuwait have been stripped of their visas after authorities claimed they were issued by illegal visa traders. Investigations found about 1000 companies illegally operating as visa distributors. It is estimated there are about 100,000 workers illegally resident in the country.

While 700 people were charged with visa trading last summer, a new media report has revealed that the scandal goes all the way to the top and at least six members of the ruling Al Sabah family are reportedly under investigation for being involved in the scam.

Arabic daily Al Rai even claimed at least one royal was accused of bagging KD100,000 ($354,007) a month from issuing illegal visas.

In a country where two-thirds of the population are foreign workers, the government has said it wants to reduce the expat numbers from 2m to 1m by 2023. The real question now is what to do with these expats caught up in the latest massive fraud; with some parliamentarians saying around 12,000 had been “victims” of the scams.

It could be that the government will use this as a way to fast track its 2023 goal to reduce numbers, but it would be fairer if an amnesty was first launched and expats who believe they might be impacted can come forward and go through the official process and gain legitimate status.

A similar crackdown in Saudi Arabia has surely cost Riyadh millions to roll out, something Kuwait can’t afford at a time when its budget surplus narrowed in the first six months of its fiscal year as spending soared over 50 percent.

This was partly thanks to increased outlays on public sector wages, while oil revenues fell, figures from the Finance Ministry showed.

At the same time, a Kuwaiti MP is pushing for the government to approve legislation that would give citizenship to a compulsory number of stateless people each year as it attempts to reduce the high number of bedouins in the country.

It seems residency and statehood is going to become a hot topic for Kuwait this year and it is time for the parliament to put political squabbles aside and, for the sake for the country’s stability, look for a solution to this problem before it spirals out of control.

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