A letter from an expat

Talal Al-Ghannam

Good morning dear brothers and sisters, and I greet you in advance on the advent of Eid Al-Adha. In this article, I am posting a letter sent to me by an expat in which he detailed the hardships witnessed by the majority of expats here in Kuwait due to the recent proposals submitted by MPs or other relevant authorities. I am publishing his appeal in the hope his message would be heard by those concerned:

 

(Letter starts) Venting my frustrations on the way things are going in Kuwait. Apologies in advance, but not having a voice in what happens in a place I have lived in and grown attached to over the past 10 years constantly frustrates, and you, from your pieces published in the Kuwait Times, are one of the few sympathetic ears I know, so please bear with me if you will.

 

Just today I read in a local blog a piece that was published in the Times in November 2015 (why such a delay I have no idea). In this piece, a certain government official was quoted as having said:  “As a country of law, we protect expatriates and their rights… however, those who do not have a job do not have a place among us. This is how it should be, and that is what we believe should be done”.

 

Quite who the WE is, is not clarified, but it I assume that the honorable gentleman is claiming to speak for most if not all Kuwaitis. I trust that the statement is addressing the issue of the many thousands of expats working illegally in Kuwait and not the dependents of those who legally hold a job. As far as it goes, the weeding out of ‘illegals’ is fully justified, although many are illegally employed with the collusion of some Kuwaiti employers or otherwise.

 

Sadly the ‘rights’ and conditions of the vast majority of expats, legal as well as illegal, have taken a severe bashing over the last two to three years, to the point where certain reports would have us believe that Kuwait has become one of the world’s least desirable destination for expats. Be that as it may, many rules and regulations introduced over the last two to three years tended to make expat life in Kuwait more unattractive and certainly more complicated. These include:

 

* A tax to be levied on expat remittances.

* The imposition of higher charges for water and electricity.

* Increased charges for public healthcare.

* Smaller living space at greater cost in newly-constructed apartment buildings.

 

* Restrictions placed on expat visit visas.

* Restrictions on the issuance of driving licenses.

* The expulsion of ‘bachelor’ expats from living quarters in Kuwaiti housing areas (rented to them by Kuwaitis).

* Compulsory early retirement of expats in the public sector.

 

Some of these hit the pocket of expats, whilst others simply make life more difficult and restrictive. Whatever their true intentions, the new generation of rules and regulations have certainly made the vast majority of expats feel that their existence here in Kuwait is under siege, if not totally unwanted.

 

In assessing the impact of such new legislation, we need to remind ourselves that according to the ministry of social affairs and labor and other government agency statistics, there are now as many expats legally working in Kuwait as there are total Kuwaitis – men, women and children.

 

Most significantly, about nine out of ten of these (well over a million), earn less than KD 500 per month. Many only able to afford to live in Kuwait on ‘bachelor status’ (married or not) and in overcrowded conditions, and are, for the most part, working in manual and unskilled jobs. Given that most of these jobs are menial as well as low-paid, it is unlikely, in the foreseeable future, that they will be filled by Kuwaitis.

 

It is arguable that on this basis, the majority of these jobs (done by expats) are an essential element in maintaining the high standard of living enjoyed by the more affluent minority (non-Kuwaitis like me, as well as Kuwaitis) in Kuwait today.

 

On the flip side of the coin, there are a few glimmers of encouragement for expats, especially those who have spent most of their working lives here: * Assuming they can meet the required conditions (minimum of 15 years’ residence, etc), expats are now able to purchase investment apartments.

 

* Automatic early retirement for expats (in the public sector) can be waived if the expat has a record of long and valuable service. This recognizes both the long service to the country by many expats and the fact that if there were more opportunities open to them for investment in Kuwait, less money (earned in Kuwait) would be remitted abroad.

 

Many expats (of my knowing) who have either worked most of their lives in Kuwait, or even been born here, because they have no home in Kuwait, are compelled to leave when they retire, even if they have saved for their old-age or have children who can support them financially. It would do much for expat morale if such people were granted a ‘retired persons residency’ on condition that they could prove that they would not be a ‘drain’ on the state. Kuwait can only gain strength from a fairer and better integration of its many component parts.

 

Till my next article insha Allah

 

By Talal Al-Ghannam

local@kuwaittimes.net

This article was published on 29/08/2017