Indians anxious as Kuwait moves ahead with foreign worker quota

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Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - Chef Sheikh Firdous has been desperately trying to take a flight from Kuwait City to India’s eastern Kolkata city to meet his mother for weeks.

The coronavirus pandemic means the restaurant where he works is shut, but the 22-year-old is worried about leaving the oil-rich nation after Kuwaiti lawmakers proposed a new quota for the number of foreign workers allowed to live in the country.

The law could mean hundreds of thousands of Indians will be forced to leave as it states the community – one of the largest in the country – should not exceed 15 per cent of the national population. There are currently around a million Indians currently living in Kuwait, a country of 4.1 million.

“What if I am not allowed to come back?” Mr Firdous said.

“My life would be destroyed ... The situation in India is extremely bad ... there are no jobs. I will get way less salary."

The young chef moved to the Gulf nation in 2018 and started working for a multi-cuisine restaurant in Kuwait’s Hawally city, earning enough to support his widowed mother in India and securing his future.

Although, he has been out of work for the last four months due to the pandemic lockdown, he is hopeful that he will regaining his employment after the health emergency is over.

A Kuwaiti national, residing abroad, shows the tracking bracelet provided by authorities as she leaves at the Kuwait International airport in the capital upon her return as part of a repatriation plan on April 19, 2020, and ahead of being taken to mandatory home quarantine. AFP

Press photographers wearing protictive masks attend a parliament session at Kuwait's national assembly in Kuwait City on March 24, 2020. AFP

Kuwaiti boys wearing protective face masks and quarantine tracking bracelets, following the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), pose for the camera as they hold up their passports upon arrival from Amman, to Kuwait Airport in Kuwait, Kuwait April 21, 2020. REUTERS

Hand out photo released by KUNA on April 28, 2020, shows Kuwait's Health Minister Sheikh Basil al-Sabah (C), as he receives members of a Chinese health delegation visiting Kuwait to exchange experiences on strategies, plans, and procedures to contain COVID-19 coronavirus disease. AFP

An airport staff member wearing Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) stands at entrance of the Kuwait International Airport, in Kuwait city, Kuwait, 25 April 2020, during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic. Kuwait is repatriating its citizens from abroad, the country's national aviation authority announced. EPA

Children continue their school curriculum online via a computer screen at their home in Kuwait City on March 23, 2020. AFP

Members of Kuwait's national guard wearing safety masks keep watch outside a hotel in the capital where Kuwaitis returning from Iran are quarantined and tested for coronavirus COVID-19, on February 24, 2020. Kuwait confirmed three cases who tested positive for coronavirus, a 53-year-old Kuwaiti man, a 61-year-old Saudi citizen, and a 21-year-old stateless Arab (Bidoon), after returning from Iran's holy city of Mashhad. AFP

Students watch an instructional video on Coronavirus infection at a school in Kuwait City on February 10, 2020. AFP

A Kuwaiti trader wearing a protective mask follows the market at the Boursa Kuwait stock exchange in Kuwait City on March 1, 2020. Boursa Kuwait decided to close the main trading hall due to the COVID-19 coronavirus disease developments. Stock markets in the oil-rich Gulf states plunged on March 1 over fears of the impact of the coronavirus, which also battered global bourses last week. All of the seven exchanges in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), which were closed the previous two days for the Muslim weekend, were hit as oil prices dropped below $50 a barrel. The region's slide was led by Kuwait Boursa, where the All-Share Index fell 10 percent, triggering its closure. Kuwait's bourse was closed for most of last week for national holidays. AFP

Expatriate returning from Egypt, Syria, and Lebanon arrive to be re-tested at a Kuwaiti health ministry containment and screening zone for COVID-19 coronavirus disease in Kuwait City on March 16, 2020. AFP

Kuwaiti health minister Sheikh Basel al-Sabah (R) speaks to the press at Sheikh Saad Airport in Kuwait City, on February 22, 2020, as Kuwaitis returning from Iran wait before being taken to a hospital to be tested for coronavirus. - Iran ordered the closure of schools, universities and cultural centres after a coronavirus outbreak that has killed five people in the Islamic republic, the most outside the Far East. AFP

Kuwaiti health ministry workers scan employees and visitors of the ministries complex, as they arrive to their work, in Kuwait City on March 4, 2020. AFP

Muslim men wearing protective masks perform Friday prayers at a mosque in Kuwait City on February 28, 2020. - Kuwait's Ministry of Awqaf and Islamic Affairs set the Friday prayer sermon to not exceed 10 minutes, and to discuss precautions against COVID-19 coronavirus disease infections. Kuwait has recorded 43 coronavirus cases since its outbreak, the United Arab Emirates reported 13, while Bahrain has 33, and Oman is at four cases. Government institutions in the gulf country suspended the use of fingerprint recognition to clock in and out. AFP

Kuwaiti Prime Minister Sheikh Sabah Al Khaled Al Sabah said last month that the country would like the number of foreign workers to drop from 70 per cent of the population to 30 per cent. Over 3 million people are non-citizens, with Egyptians the second largest proportion of the population.

Anti-immigration sentiments have become shriller across the world as countries deal with economic slowdown and growing unemployment due to the raging pandemic.

The proposal has caused panic among the Indian community, although it was still unclear which sectors will be impacted or when the cut off for securing a residency will be.

About half a million Indians are employed in the private sector as construction workers, engineers, doctors and IT experts and over 300,000 are involved in blue-collar jobs as drivers, gardeners, cooks and housemaids, according to the Indian Embassy in Kuwait.

Indians began migrating to Kuwait in the 1970s following a boom in the tiny-nation’s economy, mostly driven by oil exports, and since then have played a pivotal role in the development of the country.

Lack of opportunities and poor living standards in the South Asian nation has made the Gulf a popular destination for job seekers, hosting more than 10 million Indians.

In 2018, Indians living in Kuwait sent US$4.8 billion in remittances home.

Experts say the proposed repatriation of thousands of Indians followed by restrictions on foreign worker numbers will deal a crippling blow to job hunters in India, who are seeking greener pastures as New Delhi struggles to revive its sluggish economy and unemployment rates are at a 45-year high.

“The proposed bill will affect Indian community badly. If the bill is passed, the impact will be huge,” said Ashraf Ali, chairman of recruitment consultancy HR International globally, told The National.

“As many as 600,000 to 800,000 Indians could lose their jobs and be evicted from Kuwait."

Although approved by the National Assembly committee, the bill will now be referred to the concerned committee for consideration.

The move could impact the bilateral relations between India and Kuwait, which have improved under Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government.

The Indian government is yet to react to the proposed law, but its foreign ministry said they were watching the developments closely.

“We have nothing to say on this because it is still at committee level; it is still to be introduced at parliament,” said an official at the ministry.

Experts said the proposed law was not aimed at India, but questioned the rationale behind it.

“The main point to be noted is that every worker in Kuwait has gone there legally, against a legal contract and a visa issued by the state of Kuwait,” said Talmiz Ahmed, a former Indian diplomat.

“The services of expatriates have transformed the small desert kingdom into a modern flourishing state. The proposal betrays a serious ignorance with regards to the history of recruitment of foreign workers in Kuwait and the ground reality that prevails in that country."

Updated: July 7, 2020 03:22 PM

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