Since the pandemic began here in March 2020, Kuwait Times has received thousands of queries and requests asking when Kuwait will reopen visit visas. Visit visas are a lifeline for expatriates. They are necessary for bringing family from abroad to visit, are often the first step in obtaining dependent visas for family who plan to live here and also for children who are born abroad but whose parents live in Kuwait.
Another category of people utilize visit visas as a way to find jobs in Kuwait. Though there are no published statistics, it is widely known that people often come to Kuwait on visit visas to search for work. Quite often these people are low skilled or do not have job offers in place and instead are trying their luck after arriving in the country.
Kuwait needs foreign labor, despite government Kuwaitization efforts to the contrary. There are a growing number of fields and roles locals can and will take on but there is still a need for foreigners, at least in the short term, if the economy is going to keep pace with the rest of the region.
But the circuitous visit visa path job seekers use to find work here does not serve anyone. It does not serve Kuwait’s businesses because it does not focus on providing a population of skilled labor for the market. It also does not serve the job hunters themselves, who often pay recruiters in their home countries for the privilege of access to Kuwait via a ‘visit visa’ but who arrive here with limit chance of finding a job.
Finally it creates a problem for all those who legitimately fall into the visitor category. Husbands and wives who want to visit their spouses here, parents who want to visit children all face additional hurdles to obtain a visit visa because the mechanism has been abused and exploited.
Kuwait’s current solution to this problem of abuse of the visit visa system is to simply close it. Full stop. No visit visas are issued at all. This, unfortunately, has resulted in the separation of families in some cases now for almost two years. It also means that mothers with valid residency who have delivered babies abroad find difficulty in bringing their child to Kuwait before obtaining the necessary dependent visa.
One solution that might be considered is creating a new category of visa: job seeking visas. Many countries like Canada, Germany, Ireland, Norway, Spain, Thailand and others have a visa specifically for those looking for a job. This allows the government to help businesses by encouraging skilled, qualified candidates into the country for a specified period of time where they can openly and legally apply for jobs.
Streamlining the process so that job seekers can search for work here legally would benefit employers also by providing them with a vetted, larger pool of potential applicants. Theoretically, the government could also make it easier for businesses by allowing transition from job seeker to work visa (visa 18) status after the three-month probation period.
It would also separate out ‘real’ visitors – those who want to see family or tour the country – from those who are searching for employment and this would open the way for the government to reopen visit visas and allow families to be reunited. After all the chaos and suffering of the last nearly two years, surely that should be a priority.