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WHAT IS THE EXPAT BILL?
The expat bill aims to reduce its immigrant population from 70% to 30%. This has come in light of COVID-19, which has affected the oil-rich country’s economy. The dwindling oil prices have led to the dip in Kuwait’s economy. The financial crisis has put their national population out of jobs which have led to the demand against the employment of the expatriates. Interestingly the local population makes up for 1.3 million against 2.5 million of the expatriates out of the total 3 million people residing in the gulf country. The Prime minister Sheikh Sabah Al Khalid Al Sabah has called for the reduction of the foreigner population gradually to bridge the gap between the numbers of the nationals and the expatriates. The draft law also imposes a cap on the number of expats along with the fact that it will gradually reduce them by approx 5% on a yearly basis like if it is 70%, next year this number will decrease to 65% and so on.
REASONS FOR SUCH A MOVE:
The bill was a burning issue since the beginning of the Covid-19 Pandemic essentially because the Foreigners have been held to be majorly accountable for Kuwait’s rising cases.
Firstly, this happened because the virus spread exorbitantly among the migrant workers due to overcrowded housing. This would also lead to straining health facilities in the state.
Secondly, Kuwait’s citizens have been gradually turning into a minority because of the large influx of migrant labours from different countries. Hence it no longer wants to be an expat-majority nation. This move of Kuwait can be equated with that of USA’s decision which extended the 60-day ban on immigrant and non-immigrant worker visas till the end of 2020.
Thirdly, Kuwait has often faced several issues due to its population structure with a large number of expats. By thoroughly scrutinising the figures, it becomes quite evident that almost one-third of the expats in Kuwait are either illiterate or can barely read and write which in result have no constructive contribution to country’s growth in any terms whatsoever.
And lastly, expats being the easy target due to the crisis. Kuwait’s history has been proof enough of the fact that whenever the oil prices saw a descent, the government resorted to means which have proved to be derogatory, like-
1. Salaries of the expatriates were reduced.
2. The value-added tax was increased
3. Fuel and electricity prices surged
4. Healthcare sector showed a steady increase in the cost of amenities.
INDIAN DIASPORA AT STAKE
Indians living in Kuwait amount to a significant number of around 1.45 million of the total population, and according to the bill Indian population should not be more than 15% of the total population. This would mean that around 800,000 Indians would be compelled to return to India. As reported by the Indian embassy in Kuwait that, there are about 28,000 Indians working for the Kuwaiti Government in various jobs like nurses, engineers in national oil companies and a few as scientists and most of the Indians work in the private sector. In addition, there are about 1.16 lakh dependents. Out of these, there are about 60,000 Indian students studying in 23 Indian schools in the country. No doubt the impact of expat bill will be heavy on them, but it is believed that this could be a temporary phenomenon also since a lot of the gulf countries had tried to reduce their foreign population before due to economic crisis but did not follow up. No doubt the impact of the bill will be heavy on them but if we look back, the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) have tried to reduce their expatriate population in the past but could not follow through as the foreign workers have significantly contributed to their GDP. So it could be a temporary phenomenon
THE BIG PICTURE: Implications on India
If Kuwait turns the bill into a reality, then it will be a huge setback for India’s remittances as a large proportion comes from Kuwait amounting to approximately $4.8 billion. Not only this the return of 800,000 Indians will see a rise in unemployment at a time when our economy is already hanging by a loose thread and unemployment is at its highest peak not only in India but around the world.
The maximum amount of remittances for India are secured by Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra and Karnataka. But out of these four, the worst hit would be Kerala since a majority of the workforce are Keralites there who are mostly employed as labourers or semi-skilled workers and the total remittances amounted to $ billion in 2018. This would burn a huge hole in the state’s pocket, which is already reeling under the massive costs of COVID-19. This, along with repatriation of 400,000 Keralites, would put the already sinking boat of Kerala down to the bottom of the sea.
Well, that being said, Anurag Srivastava spokesperson for Ministry of External Affairs has said that India is closely following the developments in Kuwait regarding the bill and there have been discussions between the foreign ministers of both the countries and that the Indian community in Kuwait is well-regarded in Kuwait and elsewhere in the Gulf region and their contributions are also well recognised. India has shared its expectations that Kuwait’s decision would be taken into consideration
If the bill indeed becomes the act then the hope of the Kuwait dream will shatter for many Indians. This move of deglobalisation may work in short term but practically in the long haul, Kuwait would need expatriates to work for them because they have the requisite skill and knowledge and many of them are involved in significant development of the state’s infrastructure. It is no secret that Indians in the Gulf countries are considered hardworking and law-abiding citizens and India shares a brilliant rapport with all the gulf cooperation countries. Nevertheless, given the current crisis and condition of the world economy, the expression ‘gone to the gulf’ might not be used for a long time since it will be years before the Arab countries will start to employ outsiders in large numbers. India must approach the situation at hand as grabbing a golden opportunity by contributing to its very own idea of “Atma Nirbhar Bharat” (self-reliant India) since highly skilled labour workforce who have work experience would add on to be a substantial asset to the industry as well as the country.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR(S)
Kopal Agarwal is a 5th-year law student at Amity Law School, Delhi (affiliated to G.G.S.IPU).
Kritika Goyal is a 5th-year law student at Amity Law School, Delhi (affiliated to G.G.S.IPU).
In Content Picture Credit: The Tribune India