KUWAIT: An elderly vendor is seen at a shop in Souq Mubarakiya. - Photo by Hussain Assad

By B Izzak

KUWAIT: The government's legal body, the Fatwa and Legislation Department, yesterday announced that a decision to ban expats aged 60 and above without university degrees from renewing work permits is "illegal", and accordingly, older residents can renew their work permits and residencies as usual. Head of the Fatwa Department Salah Al-Mesad said in a ruling to Commerce Minister Abdullah Al-Salman that the ban decision was issued from an unauthorized official, and as a result is null and void.

Director General of the Public Authority for Manpower Ahmad Al-Mousa issued the decision last year stating that residents aged 60 years and above who do not hold university degrees are not permitted to renew their work permits, which is a precondition to renew the residency. The decision, affecting tens of thousands of expats who spent most of their lives in Kuwait, was harshly criticized by many MPs and local human rights bodies as "inhumane", who repeatedly called on the government to cancel it.

But it was seen by some as a means to reduce the number of foreign residents, who form close to 70 percent of Kuwait's population of 4.5 million. Two weeks ago, the minister of commerce and industry sent a letter to the fatwa department asking for a legal viewpoint on the validity and legality of the decision.

The department wrote back yesterday explaining the decision was issued by unauthorized personnel, adding decisions regarding work permit regulations must be issued only by the board of directors of the manpower authority chaired by the minister himself. It added that Mousa, the director general, is not authorized to issue such decisions, and as such it is illegal and holds no legal status.

The ruling means that procedures regarding issuance and renewal of work permits for expats will return to the way they used to be before the decision was issued 14 months ago. But before the return to regular procedures, the commerce minister must issue an official decision scrapping the old decision, which should be a formality.