Introduction to the Draft Bill
After Omanisation in Oman and the Nitaqat bill in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait is all set to localize its workforce now. What that means for majority of its population, however, is possible unemployment and a return to their home states.
Kuwait is a majority expat nation with 70% of its total population consisting of expats and the other 30% of Kuwaiti nationals. This, according to many lawmakers, is a “demographic imbalance” that the nation needs to fix. In order to do the same, the Kuwait Expat Quota Bill has been doing the rounds in parliament.
This draft bill aims at reducing thecountry’s sizeable expat community by 40% within months of coming into effect. The impact would be a reversal of the current 70:30 ratio. The Bill has already gone through the Legal and Legislative Committee of the National Assembly which has held it to be constitutional.
The Impact on India
The big reason of worry for India is that India’s is the largest expat community in Kuwait with approximately 1.4 million workers. This roughly constitutes to 30% of Kuwait’s total population. According to the bill, however, the Indian expat population cannot exceed 15% of the population.
Therefore, if this draft bill were to be enacted into a law half of the Indian expats population in Kuwait would have to return back home. This would be devastating not just for the lakhs of workers who would be out of jobs but also for their dependents, both there and back home.
Indian remittances are already set to face a huge hit with the economic slump down resulting from the coronavirus pandemic. Kuwait is a huge source of remittances for India. Estimates from 2018 suggest an influx of $4.8 billion from the country into India in the form of remittances. Given the fallout of the pandemic, coupled with the slump in oil prices, Kuwait, along with other Gulf nations, may no longer be able to heavily subsidize its citizens as they have done in the past, which would then, naturally, translate to putting them to work. This, unfortunately for India’s migrant workers, is likely to come at the cost of expat jobs. 
Plans to address the issue of Kuwait’s disproportionate expat community have been in the pipeline for some time now, with the Kuwaiti government, in April, announcing a ‘pardon plan’ to allow illegal migrants to leave the country without facing any punitive measures.
COVID-19- The Elephant in the Room
Anti-expat rhetoric has been gaining momentum since the beginning of the pandemic. The economic slowdown and the slump in oil prices due to the corona virus pandemic have been a major catalyst in the anti-expat rhetoric. In this situation, Kuwaiti government is finding it harder to subsidize state amenities for its nationals. However, whenever talks of reducing subsidies have emerged they have given rise to unrest in the nationals. The government can no longer afford to give huge subsidies, neither can it risk taking them away before the November 2020 parliamentary elections. Moreover, fresh Kuwaiti graduates are finding it harder to get good jobs and many blame the expats for taking up coveted positions. Due to these concerns, state owned oil companies and its subsidiaries have already banned intake of any expat labor in the year 2020-21 and others are to follow suit. According to Assembly Speaker, Marzouq al-Ghanam, the new draft bill is set to impose limitations on the number of expats a business can recruit every year as well as impose regulations based on their specializations.
Moreover, celebrities and politicians alike have been pressurizing the government to reduce the number of expats in the country. After Iran, Kuwait saw a spike in Covid-19 cases and many of them emerged from the expat quarters. However, the advice of local health authorities and the World Health Organization is impossible for many migrant workers to implement; their accommodations are too crowded to maintain recommended physical distance, and they often lack enough soap, water, or hand sanitizer to clean their hands regularly. Living 12 to a room in a dilapidated building and neglected by their sponsors, they have lost their incomes and do not even have enough money to buy food.
This is not their fault but of their employer’s. Kuwait’s labor law requires employers to provide either accommodation or an allowance to cover accommodation expenses, but many companies sidestep this responsibility. This forces laborers to resort to the cheapest accommodations in already impoverished and saturated areas. Free visa and irregular workers are also more likely to inhabit these areas.
Using the Covid-19 crisis to throw migrant workers, who form such a huge part of Kuwait’s economic infrastructure, seems like an opportunistic move by the Kuwaiti National Assembly. The discriminatory policies and xenophobic attitudes will not help combat the spread of the virus. If Kuwaiti labor laws had been implemented properly and the migrant workers had not been living in such pitiable circumstances, the situation of the health crisis would not have escalated. When the government should make reforms and stricter implementation rules in labor laws, it is choosing to make these workers evacuate Kuwait altogether.
Indian expats can be hopeful for some relief owing to the excellent bilateral relations between India and Kuwait. However, as of now the expats have found themselves onto uncertain and shaking grounds. It will be a huge challenge for India to find employment, especially for the unskilled labor, in the aftermath of this pandemic. Skill India, Make in Bharat and similar ventures are bound to be of great use in those efforts. Nonetheless, if this bill is enacted into law the initial blow will be taken by the Indian diaspora and the government of India and they might take some time to recover from it.
It is unclear when the law will come into effect, but reports indicate that the Kuwaiti parliament aims to complete the legislation by October this year, just in time for the country’s parliamentary elections that are slated for November 2020.
Article Written by:
Antika Priyadarshi (Intern , HRDI)