‘Bid to create job opportunities for Kuwaitis’
KUWAIT CITY, Sept 13: “Kuwait, after depending heavily on “low-cost” foreign workers from countries in the Middle East and Asia in particular, said the cashstrapped Kuwaiti government last month would not renew work permits for expatriates over the age of sixty, as of next January, especially those who do not hold university degree”, reports Al-Anba daily quoting the Arabian Business Newspaper. The company cited interviews with a number of workers in low-wage professions, including Egyptian citizen Marzouq Muhammad who told AFP that “after more than 45 years working as car washer in Kuwait to cover his living expenses, he will be forced to leave Kuwait at any time”.
Economic problems and the coronavirus stir anti-expatriate sentiments, and this 65-year-old man is among the tens of thousands of people who have to leave Kuwait, after the country had been hit hard by the oil prices crash this year. Kuwait, like other Gulf Cooperation Council countries, relies heavily on low-cost foreign labor, especially workers from the Middle East and Asia, as many of them arrive in their youth to take modest, unskilled jobs and professions that most citizens who prefer high-paying government positions avoid.
However, the collapse of oil revenues, which is a vital source of state revenue, forces a rethinking of the financial situation, as government seeks to determine the number of non-Kuwaitis at 30 percent of the total population of 4.8 million people, compared to the current 70 percent to solve the demographic problem.
Kuwait aims, as part of its endeavor to diversify its economy, to rely more on Kuwaitis to work in all professions.
Iranian citizen Hassan Ali, who is among the more than 68,000 expatriates whose visas will not be renewed, said “leaving a country where he has spent more than half of his 67 years on earth would be a tragic thing”.
Ali, a vegetable seller in Mubarakiya Market, declared: “I got married here, I had my children and lived my life in Kuwait, and it is difficult for me to simply leave, after all these years.”
Syrian national Khalil Abdullah, a 63-year-old mechanic, said he was still hoping to delay his stay in Kuwait. Is it possible for merchants and company owners to leave their interests and everything behind, he asked?.
On the other hand, the emerging corona virus pandemic, which had disproportionate effects on migrant workers living in crowded housing, has shed light on the existence of a society that is increasingly seen as a burden, especially with the decline in job opportunities available to them.
While some welcomed the recent move to reduce the number of expatriates, experts say the decision will harm private sector and reduce consumption, while Kuwait Restaurant Association warned that the measures may harm companies already suffering from financial hardship after months of closure.
For his part, Head of Research at the Kuwaiti Financial Center, M.R. Raghu said the strategy is to create job opportunities for Kuwaitis while retaining more skilled foreign workers, indicating that government seeks to implement this matter by reducing expatriate workers who do not add value to the economy, while jobs can be liberalized to provide jobs for citizens.
However, despite a campaign to encourage citizens to enter private labor market, only about 72,000 citizens work there. This is just over 5 percent of the 1.4 million citizens. “Government will also need to take steps to make private sector more attractive to citizens who prefer to work in the public sector,” Raghu said.
Arabian Business said the population of all countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council is decreasing, as the coronavirus and oil crisis destroyed the economies of these countries, but Kuwait’s crisis was particularly severe, as Finance Minister Barrak Al-Sheetan warned last month that there will not be enough money to pay salaries of state employees after October, unless the government secure new funds.
It is noteworthy the country has a reserve fund for future generations, which is one of the largest sovereign wealth funds in the world, with assets of about 550 billion dollars, allocated for the post-oil era but the National Assembly accuses government of mismanaging public finances and rejected a bill to borrow 20 billion dinars (65 billion dollars) over the next thirty years.