Kuwait minister defends right to cut expat numbers

Minister of Social Affairs and Labour says it is country's right to rebalance demographics
(Photo for illustrative purposes only)
By Courtney Trenwith
Wed 05 Jun 2013 09:37 AM

A senior Kuwaiti minister has defended the country’s right to rebalance its demographics by culling thousands of expatriates.

It is Kuwait’s “right as a state to maintain the demographic structure and address any flaws in this regard,” Minister of Social Affairs and Labour Thekra Al-Rashidi said in a statement on Tuesday.

“Several other steps [to reduce the number of expats] will be taken in the next few days.”

The statement did not make it clear whether those steps will target the deportation of expats already in the country or include new measures to make it more difficult for new workers to arrive.

Al-Rashidi earlier this year announced the Gulf state would cut the number of foreigners, who make up about two-thirds of the population, by 1m over 10 years.

“It’s part of the ministry’s efforts to regulate the labor market, curb the phenomenon of marginal labor and restore the demographic equilibrium of the country,” she said at the time.

Al-Rashidi said on Tuesday there were 93,000 illegal residents in Kuwait as of last week.

About 1,300 foreigners were deported last month over traffic violations, while authorities have cracked down on incorrect visas.

A freeze was put on issuing new work permits from April 1, with companies only allowed to hire nationals. The decision has been criticised by the private sector because there are fewer than 1m nationals of working age.

The country also is trialling segregation in public health services, banning expats from attending public hospitals in the morning unless it is an emergency. The first hospital implemented the change on Sunday.

Lawmakers also have called for large subsidies for services such as water, electricity and gas to be scrapped for expats, which could push up monthly bills beyond the average salary.

Kuwait was named as one of the world's least friendly countries towards tourists in a global travel and tourism competitiveness survey by the World Economic Forum released this week.

It was ranked 137 out of 140 countries for friendliness.

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