Expats in Kuwait

Economic ties between other nations and Kuwait are crucial for the empowerment of expat communities in the Gulf country.

Walking in the business districts of Kuwait City, you are more likely to come across foreign nationals than Kuwaiti citizens. Many vacancies across the country’s economy, ranging from manual labor jobs to senior management, are filled by foreign individuals. It is estimated that expats make up 70% of Kuwait’s 4.6 million population.

The reasons behind Kuwait’s popularity with expats are multiple. Kuwait’s famously strong currency combined with the absence of personal income tax is a major attraction for many professionals and unskilled laborers alike. High safety standards and low crime rate have also made the country a desirable choice for many international businesspeople on the lookout for opportunities in the GCC.

The presence of a large number of expats has inevitably affected the local community. Kuwait as we know it is run with the help of foreign workers, and it will be difficult to imagine a Kuwait City without them. However, the expat population has been slightly declining in recent years. The decline led to a 2.2% drop in total population in 2020 followed by another 0.9% drop in 2021. “This may impose more pressure on the labor market in the future,” noted Zawya, adding that “there is an increase in the number of citizens of working age.”

This essentially means that Kuwaitis may want to reclaim some of the jobs previously performed by foreign workers. Although the drop in migrant population may be triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic, the fact that the trend has continued well into 2022 is indicative of other causes. Above all, the decline may be attributed to the country’s longstanding Kuwaitization program.

Kuwaitization is a campaign championed by the country’s government and parliament to gradually decrease the economy’s reliance on foreign professionals by capacity-building among Kuwaitis. “The Kuwaitization drive is part of the government’s push to recruit more of its citizens, a similar push is underway across the GCC where Saudi Arabia and Oman have also been trying to increase the number of locals in employment,” according to Arab News.

In its moderate interpretation, the Kuwaitization drive is indeed a positive thing, as the current ratio of expats to citizens in Kuwait (70% to 30%) is not optimal; however, certain radical interpretations of the Kuwaitization initiative demand a 50% reduction in the population of expats in the space of five years—even if it is through deportation.

Such a rapid change in the country’s demographic can be harmful, leaving many businesses without enough human resources. Nor as Nejoud Al-Yagout reasons in Kuwait Times is it humane to turn away migrant workers en masse. “The more we love our country, the greater our duty to ensure that it moves in the direction of inclusivity and equality rather than on a path of polarization and exclusivity,” Al-Yagout remarks.

Aside from the ongoing political discussions about the place of expats in Kuwait, all-in-all migrant workers have had a good life in Kuwait so far, as the Indian community is a case in point. With over 1 million Indians living in Kuwait, they form the largest expat population in the country. Over 170 Indian community associations have been registered in Kuwait, which contribute to the welfare and morale of Indians in Kuwait. Meanwhile, there are dozens of schools ran in accordance with guidelines set by India’s Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE).

However, in the larger scheme of things, the large number of expats in Kuwait is mainly attributable to the large volume of business activities between Kuwait and the rest of the world. As such, business councils can make a difference in the way foreign professionals and businesspeople are perceived in Kuwait. The German Business Council of Kuwait (GBCK), for instance, describes itself as a“platform connecting German-speaking individuals and companies with the local and regional business industry.” And, since its launch in 2005, the council has been successful in cultivating relations between Kuwait’s larger businesses community and “professionals from Germany, Austria, and Switzerland.”

The strengthening of business ties will empower the expat communities living in Kuwait. The American chamber of commerce, better known as AmCham, recently held an event “with the goal to continue fostering business relationships amongst the different business communities,” according to Arab Times. The networking event was held in collaboration with a dozen other business forums, from the Lebanese Business Council to Australian Business Group in Kuwait.

When foreign businesses are contributing to the realization of Kuwait’s economic goals, including Vision 2035, expat communities will undoubtedly enjoy a better image. “Several American companies doing business in Kuwait have supported Kuwait’s vision through different scopes,” told AmCham to TBY. The same is true of businesses from several other countries.

“There are many success stories in Kuwait of Indians and Kuwaitis being partners in a variety of businesses like automotive, medical, oil and gas, electrical and industrial fields to name a few,” observes Gurvinder Singh Lamba, chairman of Indian Business and Professional Council Kuwait (IBPC), in an interview with TBY, adding that the “Indian diaspora has proved to be a very trustworthy and reliable partner, in business or as an employee.” Such a win-win deal is unlikely to end any time soon. Kuwait, meanwhile, will emerge as an example of productive cooperation between the local and expats communities.