By Ben Garcia

KUWAIT: Pakistani Interior Minister Sheikh Rasheed Ahmad (left) speaks to reporters at the Pakistani Embassy yesterday. — Photo by Yasser Al-Zayyat

KUWAIT: Kuwait will resume issuing work and family visas for Pakistani nationals after an 11-year (unofficial) suspension, Pakistani Interior Minister Sheikh Rasheed Ahmad told reporters at a press conference yesterday. “I am glad to announce today that after 11 years, Kuwait is opening family and business visas for Pakistani nationals. Kuwait has also approved visas for oilfield workers, doctors and teachers, apart from visas to be issued for the construction, IT and technical sectors,” he said.

According to Ahmad, the decision to lift the ban on visas on Pakistanis came after a meeting with Kuwait’s Prime Minister HH Sheikh Sabah Al-Khaled Al-Sabah. “In the first phase, we are going to start with family and business visas, while work visas will be issued in the second phase. Kuwait is very interested in construction and technical workers from our country. It took 11 years for this decision and we are very happy with this new development,” he added.

For more than a decade, Kuwait has unofficially banned nationals from Pakistan, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan and Yemen from entering the country over security and political concerns. The blacklist includes trade, tourist and visit visas, as well as visas sponsored by spouses. There are around 94,000 Pakistanis in Kuwait, down from a peak of as many as 150,000 in 2009.

Pakistanis were stunned when the ban came into effect, as thousands of people including families of residents and residents who had traveled were impacted. In March 2017, the then Pakistani government had also

announced the lifting of the ban by Kuwait during a visit by former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to Kuwait. However, the decision was never implemented.

“I came under the direction of our Prime Minister Imran Khan, and in a kind gesture of goodwill, the Kuwaiti government allowed 72 prisoners to be transferred to Pakistan to serve their sentences there. Unfortunately, only six agreed to be shifted to Pakistan. We are arranging their flight back home soon,” Ahmad said.

Asked about the impact of the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan, Ahmad said peace in neighboring Afghanistan is peace for Pakistan too. “The Taleban have been deep-rooted in our provinces too, but the good news is that around 87 percent of the Afghan border has been fenced – for the first time in 70 years – to ensure peace and stability. The remaining fencing will be done in two months. We support the democratic process in Afghanistan, and are waiting to see the situation in the next few months or so,” he said.