Expat quota bill set to impact 8 lakh Indians in Kuwait; foreign workers in Gulf bear brunt of coronavirus pandemic

According to the draft expat quota bill, Indians, currently the largest expat community in Kuwait with a population of 1.45 million, should not exceed 15 percent of the population

FP Staff July 07, 2020 09:19:22 IST
Expat quota bill set to impact 8 lakh Indians in Kuwait; foreign workers in Gulf bear brunt of coronavirus pandemic

Kuwait’s National Assembly approved a draft expat quota bill seeking to reduce the number of foreign workers in the Gulf country, putting in jeopardy the status of eight lakh Indians in the Gulf country.

According to the bill, Indians, currently, the largest expat community in Kuwait with a population of 1.45 million, should not exceed 15 percent of the population. The current population of Kuwait is 4.3 million, with Kuwaitis making up 1.3 million of the population and the expats account for 3 million.

The draft bill has been approved a month after Kuwait’s Prime minister Sheikh Sabah Al Khalid Al Sabah proposed reducing the number of expats from 70 percent to 30 percent of the population. Additionally, Assembly Speaker Marzouq Al-Ghanem said that the more serious problem is that 1.3 million of the 3.35 million expats "are either illiterate or can merely read and write", the people Kuwait does not really need, the Kuwait Times reported. "I understand that we recruit doctors and skilled manpower and not unskilled labourers. This is an indication that there is a distortion. Visa traders have contributed in increasing this figure,” Ghanem said.

According to the Indian embassy in Kuwait, there are about 28,000 Indians working for the Kuwaiti Government in various jobs like nurses, engineers in national oil companies and a few as scientists. The majority of Indians (5.23 lakh) are deployed in private sectors. In addition, there are about 1.16 lakh dependents. Out of these, there are about 60,000 Indian students studying in 23 Indian schools in the country. Kuwait is a top source of remittances for India. In 2018, India received nearly US $4.8 billion from Kuwait as remittances.

The Speaker said the draft law they intend to file will propose to impose a cap on the number of expats, whose numbers must decrease gradually by stating that this year expats will be 70 percent, next year 65 percent and so on, the report said. The draft expat quota bill, which proposes similar quotas for other nationalities, will now be referred to the concerned committee for consideration.

According to Amnesty International, the six countries that make up the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) - Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman and Qatar – host the majority of the estimated 23 million migrant workers living in the Arab states, most under the kafala system that binds them to the employer.

In these countries, workers from foreign countries are now facing worries of employment, ensuring their safety during the coronavirus pandemic and returning home. Work conditions remain unfavourable with the prevalence of forced labour and unpaid wages and confiscation of passports being common, even where the law prohibits it, Reuters reported.

On the one hand, Qatar, where preparations for the 2022 World Cup are in full swing, took cognisance of the conditions in which workers live and decided to implement measures like workers’ rooms with lower occupancy limits, provision of hygiene products and wages and treatment for the sick. Saudi Arabia announced the extension of the exit-return visa and visit visas for expatriates abroad for another three months for free and Bahrain recently settled the issue raised by tens of migrant workers who had not been paid for eight months, Gulf News reported.

On the other hand, as the COVID-19 outbreak ravaged economies all around the world, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia had in May promised to cover any shortfalls in their own nationals' wages. However, this announcement left out the foreign workers, who make up 95 percent of the workforce in some Gulf countries, DW reported. The United Arab Emirates changed its law to allow companies to break the work contracts of non-nationals, restructure contracts to lower salaries and pressure workers to take unpaid leave. In April, when international passenger flight operations started being suspended, UAE also warned it would review labour ties with countries refusing to take back citizens, including those who lost their jobs or were put on leave.

Amid the coronavirus pandemic and institutional apathy, foreign workers have no option but to stay in the Gulf countries till the outbreak subsides. However, the governments turning their backs on these migrants deprives them of access healthcare, dignified living conditions and even the option to return home, as many who took loans to immigrate remain trapped in debt cycles. Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain promised to financially support businesses to pay salaries, however, their schemes appear designed to only support their own nationals. The provision of a mutual agreement between employers and employees offered by these governments may also prove futile as the kafala system ensures great sway over workers.

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