Months ahead of upcoming parliamentary elections, scapegoating of foreign workers distracts from government mismanagement
Rabat – Kuwait’s large expat population is facing increasing pressure as xenophobic policies are introduced to placate anti-immigrant voters. Kuwait’s reserve fund is slowly drying up and the government struggles to pay public wages. Similar to trends in Europe, local politicians are increasingly using anti-immigrant sentiment to distract from the country’s economic woes.
Kuwait’s oil-dependent economy has taken a beating by the slump in oil prices that coincided with the COVID-19 pandemic. The IMF predicts that the Kuwaiti economy will shrink by 1.1% and the government has approved a law to limit state revenue flowing to the country’s sovereign wealth fund. Relative to many other countries, Kuwait is not in dire straits, however.
Yet in these uncertain times, fear is being stoked about looming unemployment for native Kuwaitis. Even though the unemployment rate is at a remarkable 1.1% according to the IMF. Kuwait’s unemployment number has been below 2.5% for the last five years after a 2014 peak of 2.92%.
Many nations would be proud of such low unemployment numbers. Politicians in Kuwait, however, continue to use potential unemployment as a way to stoke resentment against the expat community. Politicians are playing on local xenophobia in an apparent attempt to divert attention away from government mismanagement of the country’s riches.
Kuwait’s parliamentarian elections are likely to take place on November 28 or December 5, and politicians are rapidly pushing anti-immigrant policies to appease xenophobic voters. Politicians appear eager not to dissuade voters of their scapegoat. Instead, they are implementing inhumane policies that could prove harmful to the country in the long run.
One such policy is the decision to bar any expat without a higher education above the age of 60 from renewing their residency in Kuwait. The new policy will affect roughly 100,000 people who have often worked in Kuwait for decades. The Kuwait Restaurants Union on August 27 issued a memo criticizing the policy as unconstitutional and stating that this section of workers is often the most loyal and experienced of the Union’s workers.
The expat community in Kuwait has seen unprecedented numbers of lay-offs and faces increased economic desperation. Fired expat teachers are forced into tutoring, former office workers drive taxis and deliver food while their wives work as nannies to make ends meet.
The government has committed to deporting up to 360,000 expats in the near future in what it calls “demographic restructuring.” Prominent politicians and media figures continue to push anti-immigrant measures, casting aside the people who helped build Kuwait’s prosperity and are unlikely to pose a real threat to native Kuwaitis employment prospects.