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Expats allowed to seek part-time jobs in 2015 – Manpower authority braces for reopening recruitment

KUWAIT: Foreigners working in the private sector will be allowed to seek part-time jobs in other companies starting from the beginning of the new year, a government official said. The current labor law allows firms to hire part-timers, but local authorities have yet to open this door for foreigners who could be looking for an additional way to make money or practice a certain profession outside of their work hours legally. This will change in less than a month, when the Manpower Public Authority adopts new controls and conditions to organize this process, General Director Jamal Al-Dousary said in a recent official statement issued by the MPA.

Expatriates working in the public sector already have the right to seek part-time jobs in the private sector or nongovernmental organizations under the Civil Service Commission's law without restrictions. Many expatriates already work part time in the private sector informally. The new provision will legalize this and may also encourage more foreigners to take up part-time work, thus adding to the labor market without adding to the number of foreigners living in Kuwait.

New regulations
The new provision is one of many to be announced by the beginning of 2015, the most notable of which is opening the door for private companies to recruit labor directly from abroad - a process that has been suspended in recent years pending the transitional period between moving the labor department from the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor to the Manpower Public Authority.

While employers may resume applying for work permits to foreign workers, the process will still not be entirely free. There will no longer be restrictions on hiring workers based on profession, but companies must adhere to regulations that take into account the labor market's needs and the country's demographic balance. The new regulations will be announced by the beginning of 2015 as well, Dousary said.

Addressing Kuwait's demographic imbalance has been a main challenge for the manpower authority while formulating laws to organize labor recruitment and visa procedures. Kuwait is home to 2.8 million expatriates who make up 70 percent of the country's 4 million population.

There have been several attempts in the parliament this year to cut the number of foreign residents in the country, most notably a proposal made by MP Abdullah Al-Tamimi this October, which sets the maximum stay for expatriate workers to 10 years, and a maximum cap for each community that does not exceed 15 percent of the total number of citizens, who currently stand at about 1.25 million. If approved, the law means that no foreign nationality should exceed 190,000, a figure that directly affects the Indian (700,000), Egyptian (500,000) and Bangladeshi (200,000) communities in Kuwait.

Anti-trafficking measures
Procedures to transfer commercial visit and domestic workers' visas to the private sector will completely be stopped however, Dousary clarified. The move is generally perceived as an attempt to counter illegal stay as well as visa trafficking - a form of scam targeting labor forces looking for a chance to make a more decent living compared to what they have in their home countries.

Visa trafficking is defined as a form of human trafficking whereby workers are hired locally or brought from abroad via work permits issued illegally through loopholes found in the sponsorship or 'kafala' system that organizes the affairs of the country's expatriate population. Victims of visa traffickers are mostly low-wage workers who come from Southeast Asia, North Africa and other countries seeking work in the oil-rich Gulf region. Once they reach Kuwait, a worker is left with no real job and becomes prone to hard labor, mistreatment and extortion by asking large amounts of money to renew their expired visas.

The government, represented by the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor and Ministry of Interior, has taken efforts this year to detect and prosecute companies charged with visa trafficking. Hundreds of fake company files have been referred to the relevant investigation authorities since the beginning of this year, and dozens were most recently referred for failure to have a physical presence in the address specified in their profiles, according to an Al-Jarida daily report published yesterday.

The Interior Ministry also said last September that no amnesty will be announced in the near future for expatriates living illegally in Kuwait, whose numbers are estimated between 90,000 and 100,000 according to official statistics. The last time an amnesty period was adopted was in 2011, when nearly 42,000 benefited from exceptions provided for four months.

Annual inventory
The manpower authority will suspend some labor-related procedures including work permit issuance and visa transfer starting from Dec 15 for the annual inventory, Dousary announced. He also revealed that coordination is ongoing for the official opening of the government-sponsored shelter for workers facing problems with their employers. The shelter provides a place to stay for workers facing oppression, especially domestic helpers - estimated at a total number of 650,000 - whose rights are not covered by the labor law.

The manpower authority was established this year as a state department with the general idea that it will eventually handle all the affairs of expatriate labor, gradually phasing out the sponsorship system in the process.

By Ahmad Jabr

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This article was published on 07/12/2014