Fate of 800,000 Indian workers in doubt over Kuwait’s expat quota

Bill aims to cap Indian workers’ population to 15 pc

Diaspora

August 22, 2020

/ By / New Delhi



New expat bill will cap Indian expats at 15 pc which will result in about 8,00,000 of Indians losing their jobs in Kuwait and returning home

About a million Indian workers in Kuwait could be asked to pack bags and return home as Kuwait’s Parliament discusses a bill to limit the number of expats in the Sheikhdom.

The tiny oil-rich Arab nation of Kuwait has a problem of plenty. Not just oil, which has made it the nation with third highest per capita income in the world, Kuwait also has many expats, or rather too many, as the country’s government seeks to put a cap on the number of expats living there.

Of the total population of 4.5 million, over 67 pc or 3 million are expats, while Kuwaiti citizens make up only for 1.3 million. Amongst the expats, the largest community is that of Indians. Numbering about 1.5 million, there are more Indians in Kuwait than Kuwaitis themselves. For long, Indian workers have been welcomed in Kuwait, with an overwhelming number of them in the low-paid and unskilled jobs and very few in well-paid and highly skilled jobs.

According to the Indian Embassy in Kuwait, there are about 28,000 Indians working for the Kuwaiti government, as of early July, in various jobs like nurses, engineers in national oil companies and a few as scientists. The majority of Indians, about 6,00,000 are employed in the private sectors in Kuwait. Majority of them have migrated from Kerala, Bihar, Odisha, Tamil Nadu and Tripura.

A tiny national population and a booming economy have meant that Kuwaitis never complained about the number of expatriates living in the country. However, things have changed over the past couple of years as the Sheikhdom battles creeping unemployment and tightening government purses due to wild fluctuations in oil prices.

The situation has worsened due to Covid-19 pandemic and ensuing lockdowns that have led to a global economic slowdown and a slump in crude oil prices. Kuwait has also recorded about 80,000 COVID-19 cases. Foreigners have incidentally accounted for a majority of these cases, especially the migrant workers who often live in overcrowded housings, as per the Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Research Centre, United States.

Due to these problems in the West Asian country, there has been a spike in anti-expat rhetoric as lawmakers and government officials call for reducing the number of foreigners in Kuwait. As a result, in early July, the government introduced an Expat Quota bill in the national Parliament which has since been passed and will soon become law. The quota bill will impose a cap on the number of expats from India and Egypt, the two largest expatriate communities in Kuwait. Prime Minister Sheikh Sabah Al Khalid Al  Sabah proposed a reduction in the number of expats from 70 pc to 30 pc of the total population. India expats will be capped at 15 pc which will result in about 8,00,000 of Indians losing their jobs in Kuwait and returning home.

While awaiting the enactment of the law, India’s Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) has said that it was monitoring the status of the bill and was in touch with the Kuwaiti government. “Both countries’ foreign ministers had discussed the matter in a recent telephone conversation and we are closely monitoring every move related to the bill in Kuwait,” MEA spokesperson Anurag Srivastava was quoted by a news agency recently.

“We share excellent bilateral ties which are deeply rooted in people to people linkages. The Indian community in Kuwait is well-regarded in Kuwait and elsewhere in the Gulf region and their contributions are well recognised. We have shared our expectations that Kuwait’s decision will take into account,” he added.

Though the Indian government may assure of bilateral talks to curb the unprecedented situation in Kuwait for the Indian diaspora, it is likely to give another blow to the already collapsed Indian economy as it would heavily impact remittances into India. Kuwait is the top source of remittances for India, which received nearly USD 4.8 billion from Kuwait in 2018. A rapidly disintegrating economy and the skyrocketing unemployment rate will greet the Indian diaspora from Kuwait, hoping to find a job. That may be more challenging for the diaspora than finding a way to dodge the quota bullet and stay on.

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