KUWAIT: This November 3, 2020 file photo shows workers moving dead palm tree leaves from a garbage container into a truck's bed at a location in Kuwait. The picture was used for illustration purpose only. - Photo by Yasser Al-Zayyat

By Ahmad Jabr

KUWAIT: A law to regulate Kuwait's demographic structure by reducing the numbers of the country's expatriate community was published in Kuwait's official gazette 'Kuwait Al-Youm' this week. The publication of the law makes it official and starts the clock on the government's plan to reduce expatriate workers in the country.

The law requires the government to present a plan within one year (from the date of publication in the official gazette on Nov 29, 2020) that will determine a formula and system for rebalancing the country's demographics. The law specifically requires the government to cut the number of foreigners living and working in Kuwait and tip the scale in favor of the Kuwaiti population, which currently stands at only 30 percent of the total population.

No specifics on how this plan should be implemented are mentioned. The law, as published, does not stipulate any details regarding the final numbers or percentages of expatriates that will be allowed to stay. The National Assembly unanimously approved the demographics law on Oct 20, 2020. The law as passed does not include a quota system based on nationality. The law requires that the government consider the total number of expatriate labor currently living in Kuwait.

According to Central Statistical Bureau figures, there are 1.7 million expat workers (compared to 396,661 Kuwaitis), making up 81.3 percent of the total workforce. Meanwhile, Public Authority for Civil Information statistics show the total expatriate population stands at 3.3 million compared to 1.4 million Kuwaitis.

"The Cabinet should issue a list of regulations to address the demographic imbalance within a year of the law's publishing, coming up with mechanisms that include controls to set a maximum cap on expatriate workers," Article 3 of the law states. "Meanwhile, the Cabinet is required to issue executive orders on a yearly basis and whenever necessary, in addition to providing the parliament with annual reports in this regard."

The explanatory note of the law mentions the "rapid spread of marginal laborers in excessive numbers" as a main reason that led to a demographic imbalance in Kuwait and piled pressure on public services, especially healthcare. "The COVID-19 crisis has exposed the terrible living conditions of marginal laborers, which necessitates legislations to control manpower percentages and regulate their presence in the country in a way that does not affect the economic, social and service aspects," the explanatory note adds.

Other issues the government should consider while preparing the regulations include:

  • Labor requirements for projects in the national development program.
  • Policies pertaining to replacing expatriate employees with Kuwaiti labor.
  • Educational levels of laborers.
  • Exceptions needed to meet the development plan's labor requirements.

Furthermore, the government must take into account the medical sector's capacity in handling potential diseases and pandemics related to manpower coming from abroad, and must also set policies to prohibit the transfer of labor forces between different sectors.

MPs had sought to force the government to gradually cut the numbers of expats over the next five years in a bid to achieve a balance between Kuwaitis and non-Kuwaitis. The issue of Kuwait's demographic imbalance has become one of the hottest topics debated in the political scene in the past few years. It was among the most debated topics in the final sessions of the National Assembly's term, and has carried over to candidates' agendas as they campaign for parliamentary elections on Saturday.