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The Middle East has long been a hotspot for expat workers.
While professional and managerial positions are frequently filled by highly educated expats from the West even lower-level positions may be filled by non-native workers.
Many Middle Eastern countries boast large populations of lesser-skilled workers from Asia such as India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.
These less-skilled migrants typically take on more menial work such as manual labour, cleaning or house-keeping.
However alongside this thriving expat community there have always been issues.
Many countries in the Middle East have raised concerns in recent years about the proportion of their residents who are non-native. Of these, Kuwait is the latest country to voice concerns and to publicise possible solutions currently under consideration.
There are many problems that the Middle East have experienced with expat workers. For one there are cultural concerns in countries where expat workers significantly outnumber native-born individuals.
In Kuwait, for example, which boasts a population of around four million people, two and a half million of those are expat workers. Such numbers risk diluting the traditional and conservative culture enjoyed in Kuwait.
Then there are concerns about public services. Such a large non-native population risks over-whelming healthcare systems and public transportation, not to mention the risk of pushing up property prices.
That said, expat workers form an essential part of the Kuwait culture, so expelling them entirely most likely isn’t a feasible solution – today at least.
And so some form of compromise will need to be reached; one where native Kuwaiti’s still have enough workers to do the necessary jobs, but without them “flooding” the country and taking away employment opportunities from native workers.
Lastly, there is an ongoing problem of “absconders” – migrants who receive a work visa, arrive in the country to perform their duties and then disappear for whatever reason.
Many return home temporarily for family or religious events and then either don’t return when promised, or not at all. Such absconders mean that the local economy is not staffed as efficiently as possible, and also means that some other workers are denied working visas unnecessarily.
Now, however, it seems that the Kuwaiti government is considering a number of possible solutions to the problem, as revealed by the Kuwait Times. Of these, possibly the most worrying is a call to limit expat residency lengths.
Whether these limits to staying in Kuwait will apply only to less-skilled migrants, or to all workers, has yet to be revealed, but if agreed could have a massive impact on Kuwait as an expat employment destination.
A quota system is also being considered, which will limit the total number of expats living and working in the country, which may result in a one-in, one-out system.
Such a plan, while having some logic to it, may also mean that businesses in Kuwait struggle to recruit the best talent as they may be unable to arrange the necessary work visas in time for prime candidates.
Lastly, consideration is being given to absconders. Discussion is underway to fine those who do not return to Kuwait when agreed, with long-term absconders possibly being banned entirely.
New fingerprint technology will make tracking expats entering and leaving the country. As a result, those owing funds within Kuwait may be prevented from leaving until their financial obligations have been met, while those that have previously received a ban from entering the country will be more easily tracked and dealt with at the border.
Whatever happens it seems that there could be some major changes coming to Kuwait in the near future, which could have a significant impact on expats already working in the country, or those considering a move to Kuwait in the near future.
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