Tipping the Balance


A series of government policy changes are in the works to address demographic and employment issues facing the Gulf state and its 2035 Development Plan.

As is the case in GCC states such as the UAE and Qatar, where non-nationals are in the majority, Kuwait’s economy is reliant upon imported labor from all over the world, with the top-three source countries for these expatriate workers being India, Egypt, and Bangladesh. This fact, coupled with Kuwait’s dependence on a single commodity—oil—has made the government eager to take action to avoid potential problems in the future.

Figures show that non-nationals represent the majority of the population. Out of Kuwait’s total population of 4.3 million, 2.9 million are foreign workers, according to the Arab Times.

The Kuwaiti government sees this as an obstacle to its goal of securing a sustainable economic future for the country. As laid out in the 2035 Development Plan, key aims for the country over the coming decade are to improve the demographic composition of the population, enhance the skill levels of Kuwaiti nationals in the workforce through the Kuwaitization program as well as various education plans, and improve both the quality and productivity of the expatriate workforce.

At the end of 2015, Kuwait set forth a new policy of linking expatriate residency permits with educational qualifications, a plan which will be implemented over the course of 2016 and monitored over the short term to gauge its effectiveness. The Civil Service Commission (CSC) in Kuwait also mandated that expatriates of all nationalities over the age of 50 must leave the country as of March 1st, 2016—a controversial and drastic move, indicating the urgency with which the issue is being addressed.

Another area of concern that affects more than just the expatriate population is the number of Kuwaiti citizens working in the public sector. Kuwaiti employment trends in public sector jobs versus the private sector indicate that the majority of Kuwaiti citizens are employed by the government, with many estimating that over 80% are government employees.

One measure of the country’s desire to address this employment imbalance and strengthen the private sector is the Kuwait Government and Manpower Restructuring Program (GMRP), which plans to boost national production and reduce unemployment by 2030 through the transfer of 59,000 Kuwaiti employees from the public to the private sector, amounting to one quarter of all public sector jobs. The program also includes training of the unemployed, targeting 10,000 individuals eligible for training programs that will aid in the transfer of the knowledge and skills necessary for private sector employment.
Developing the skills of Kuwaiti nationals to improve the economy, finding work for the unemployed, shifting the employment balance from the public to the private sector, and ensuring that Kuwaitis can compete with international standards in today’s globalized talent pool are all considerations that are becoming increasingly urgent with each passing year. As per Kuwait’s economic development plan, the country aims to achieve an increase in the ratio of Kuwaiti locals in the total population to 35% by 2035.