A million Indians in fear as Kuwait looks to cap migrant numbers

In spite of having neither job nor savings, Indian electrician Shibhu Clemance was still hopeful that he would be able to find work again in Kuwait – until he learned of a proposal to drastically cut back on migrants in the country.

The 38-year-old, who lost his job in February due to the coronavirus pandemic, is among more than a million Indians in Kuwait, the largest expat group in the Gulf country of 4.4 million.

But after the pandemic hit oil prices and local jobs, Kuwait is considering setting new limits that could force about 800,000 Indians to leave the country, potentially slashing their remittances – a crucial lifeline for families back home.

The proposal is in a new bill that would cut the total number of migrant workers in the country by 40 percent and require that the number of Indians not exceed 15 percent of the Kuwaiti population.

“I came to the Gulf and toiled hard to provide a better life for my children. The COVID-19 crisis and now the new Kuwait law have shattered my dreams,” Clemance told Reuters news agency by phone from the coastal city of Mangaf.

Before he lost his job in February, he was able to send 40,000 Indian rupees ($530) to his wife and two children who live in a cramped house in the southern Indian state of Kerala with his in-laws and six other relatives.

For Litty Shibhu, Clemance’s wife, managing the household and taking care of her large family without the monthly transfer from Kuwait has been tough.

“We are in real trouble since the money stopped coming … Every day, Shibu calls me and shares his sorrows. I’m planning to sell my gold to help him,” the 29-year-old said.

“We will virtually be on the street if my husband is compelled to return. I can’t even sleep thinking about this.”

Her concerns are echoed throughout the southern state of Kerala, which has about 2 million people working in the Gulf, according to a 2018 migration survey by the Centre for Development Studies.

State data shows 70 percent of the Indians in Kuwait are from Kerala.

Since the 1960s, remittances from the Gulf have been the backbone of Kerala’s economy, making up nearly 20 percent of the state’s gross domestic product, according to the survey.

If Kuwait passes the bill, it could further overwhelm Kerala at a time when it has been scrambling to reintegrate nearly half a million people returning from overseas and other Indian states, migration experts say.

Expats employed in ‘3D jobs’

S Irudaya Rajan, a member of the Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs’ research unit on international migration, said the expat bill was a knee-jerk reaction that would fizzle out after the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Even if Kuwait means business, it will not have a huge impact on expatriates since most of them concentrate on the 3D jobs – dirty, dangerous and demeaning,” he said.

“These are categories that local nationals are unlikely to step in and take.”

A spokesman for India’s foreign ministry said it was monitoring developments in Kuwait and the foreign ministers of both countries had discussed the bill.

Robert Mogielnicki, resident scholar at the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington, DC, said the impact on remittances would depend on when and how Kuwait enforces the expat quota.

Related Articles

Back to top button