Kuwaiti draft law targets expats to address 'demographic imbalances'

 MP’s proposal would set strict quotas on foreign resident groups.
Thursday 28/05/2020
Indian citizens queue at Kuwait International Airport before boarding a repatriation flight to India, in Kuwait City. (AFP)
Indian citizens queue at Kuwait International Airport before boarding a repatriation flight to India, in Kuwait City. (AFP)

LONDON - Kuwaiti MPs put forward a draft law May 26 to introduce quotas on foreign nationals in an effort to address “demographic imbalances” that have made “Kuwaiti citizens a minority in their own country.” 

"Today I presented a proposal to issue a demographics law. This proposal does not only address the imbalance that made Kuwaiti citizens a minority in their country, but also, importantly, the need to adjust the imbalance of nationalities, so that each nationality is represented by a certain number, which means a certain percentage that is determined by law and cannot be exceeded,” Kuwaiti MP Badr Al-Mulla said in televised statements on Wednesday.

Mulla’s proposal would set strict quotas on foreign resident groups – including a 15% quota for Egyptians, 10%, quota for Filipinos, 10% quota for Sri Lankans, 10% quota for Bangladeshis, 5% quota for Nepalese, 5% quota for Vietnamese and a 5% quota for Pakistanis. Other nationalities would have a quota set at 3%.

The draft law exempts “citizens of the countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council, the husband and children of a Kuwaiti citizen, domestic workers and workers recruited by government contracts, heads and members of diplomatic missions dispatched to Kuwait and their spouses and children under the condition of reciprocity, heads of state and members of their families, transport operators and members of military missions of countries that have security agreements with Kuwait.”

 The demographics draft law prohibits government agencies from renewing the residency status of foreign workers and includes other restrictions on work/residency permits.

Mulla said he believes the new legislation will help Kuwait counter the “repeated procrastination” of some countries to repatriate their nationals for fear of worsening the unemployment crisis at home.

If approved, the Kuwaiti government will work to reduce the proportion of foreign nationalities to the country’s population.

 The draft law sets a penalty of up to $324,000 or 10 years in prison for those who bring in foreign workers without going through the official process.

Any public employee who helps convert a person's visitor’s permit to a work or residency permit without going through the proper channels risks 5 years in prison and a fine of up to $162,000. They could also be dismissed from their job.

According to the data from Kuwait’s Central Administration for Statistics in January 2019, only 1,335,712 people out of Kuwait’s population of 4,420,110 are Kuwaiti nationals. The number of foreign workers and residents is estimated at 3,084,398.

In June 2019, a senior Kuwaiti politician made a similar proposal as the demographics law, calling on the government to expel close to two million expatriates from the country over the next five year to rectify its “demographic imbalance.”

Safa Al-Hashem reportedly said that it was essential that Kuwaiti nationals make up at least 50% of the country’s population.

“Reforming the imbalance in the demographic structure is an urgent necessity and a national requirement, because it is illogical that citizens are a minority in their home country,” Hashem said in a statement.

“We are not against any honest expat whose skills are needed by the country, but we are against crowding, unproductive expatriates who have not left any breathing space for Kuwaitis,” she said.

In late 2018, it was reported that authorities in Kuwait were planning to reduce the number of foreign residents in the country by at least 1.5 million over the next seven years.

In February 2014, another politician, Khalil Abdullah, called for the deportation of 280,000 expatriates per year for the next five years to help address demographic imbalances in the country.

“There is a critical need to find solutions for the demographic situation in Kuwait,” Abdullah said at that time.

“We need to have a Kuwaiti population that is at least equal to the number of foreigners who live in the country.

Such populist rhetoric has long been heard in Kuwait’s parliament, but public frustration over economic reforms has set the stage for increasingly clamorous politics targeting expat residents.

Kuwait’s parliament is composed of diverse political groupings, ranging from Islamists of the Muslim Brotherhood to ultraconservative Salafists to nationalists, leftists and liberals.

All of them, however, appear to agree that public services are deteriorating and blame expats for straining the state’s resources.

Reducing expat jobs, rather than introducing subsidy cuts, has been put forward as a way to help the economy.