Kuwait plans to halve number of expat roles

Construction, engineering and architecture firms hoping for the long-awaited building boom in Kuwait will be alarmed to learn that the government there will stop issuing new work permits to foreign nationals on 1 April.

The move is part of the government’s surprise plan to cut the number of expatriates in the country by more than 1 million by 2023.

Foreign workers now make up about two-thirds of the country’s population, estimated to be about 3 million.

Not only would such a drastic move cut the country’s headcount by a third, it would also put severe manpower pressure on its private sector, which is staffed almost exclusively by expats.

Of those Kuwaiti nationals who do work, only 7% work in the private sector, according to the IMF.

It’s part of the ministry’s efforts to restore the demographic equilibrium of the country.

Engineering and design firms based in Kuwait tend to hire professional staff from other countries because they accept lower salaries than Kuwaiti nationals. Previous government attempts to make private companies hire Kuwaiti nationals have met with limited success.

Kuwait’s Minister of Social Affairs and Labour, Thekra Al-Rasheedi, said that to reach its goal the government would cut the number of expats by 100,000 each year.

"It’s part of the ministry’s efforts to regulate the labour market, curb the phenomenon of marginal labour and restore the demographic equilibrium of the country," she said in a statement to the Kuwait news agency, KUNA.

Ms Rasheedi said an inspection team had been established to ensure employers complied with the new regulations.

The announcement follows other recent proposals and measures to discriminate against expats, including forcing them to drive less on Kuwait’s congested roads by withdrawing subsidies on gasoline and denying them access to medical clinics during the morning.

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