By Ben Garcia

KUWAIT: Many foreign workers aged 60 and above (without university degrees) are still contemplating whether to renew their residencies, wait for some more time or not renew at all. "I am still waiting for clarification about the private health insurance charges. The new rule is that KD 500 must be paid to the immigration department, and around KD 500 to KD 700 to private insurance companies. But many of us in this category are still waiting," a Jordanian employee told Kuwait Times.

"I have to pay it, whether it's KD 1,500 or KD 2,000, because I have to stay in Kuwait legally since my children are under my sponsorship," he said. "I hope the authorities will be sympathetic towards us. I've been in Kuwait since I was 18. I got married here, had kids and they are all under my sponsorship. I am 60 with a steady job here, so I have no option but to pay the new fees. It's difficult, especially during the pandemic, but again I have no choice," he added.

Last week, the Public Authority for Manpower allowed expats aged 60 and over who do not hold a university degree to renew their residence permits, provided they pay an annual fee of KD 500, in addition to paying for private health insurance. The decision means that the authority has scrapped a controversial decision it issued last year for elderly expats to leave Kuwait, some of whom have spent most of their lives here.

The government's legal body, the Fatwa and Legislation Department, ruled last month that the decision breaches the constitution and called for abolishing it. Close to 90,000 residents were reportedly affected by this decision. A Filipina restaurant worker in her early 60s said she is no longer willing to renew her residence permit. "My employers won't pay - they said it's a big amount. So my decision is to stay as I have a job, even though I have no iqama for the past four months. But I am also packing my bags in case I am arrested," said Linda, who has worked in Kuwait for almost 33 years.

"I was very happy to hear last month that they were scrapping the KD 2,000 fee agreed before, but after I heard the new rules, I still don't think I have enough money to pay. I will set aside this amount instead and go home. KD 1,200 is a huge amount in the Philippines and I can start a small business with it," said Linda.

When private health insurance companies were contacted, they told Kuwait Times they have not received any directives about this new decision. "We are waiting for confirmation. At the moment, we only deal in regular health insurance," an insurance agent said. Residents aged over 60 under article 22 (dependent) visas will continue paying the usual immigration fees plus the regular health insurance. Meanwhile, Minister of Commerce and Industry Abdullah Al-Salman exempted children and spouses of Kuwaiti women, holders of Palestinian passports and people born in Kuwait from the new decision.

The earlier decision was harshly criticized by many MPs and local human rights bodies as "inhumane", who repeatedly called on the government to cancel it. It was also 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.