By Ben Garcia

KUWAIT: George’s father arrived in Kuwait in 1977. He worked for 44 years in the shipping industry and retired in March 2021. George and his brother were raised here, completed high school here and returned back to Kuwait after obtaining degrees in India. They both live here with their families and have no one back in India. But now George’s family faces a terrible dilemma. The father who first built their life in Kuwait, and the mother who raised him and his brother here, may not be allowed to stay.

When George’s father retired, George and his brother tried to transfer both parents’ visas to dependent visas. Kuwait private sector law prohibits work for residents after 65 years of age. But residents may sponsor their elderly parents in some cases. However with the pandemic in full swing, the Public Authority for Manpower has effectively stopped the transfer of work to dependent visas, especially for the elderly.

“In early March, I tried my best to get them a visa. I was only able to get a short term visa extension for a few months. Instead Farwaniya Immigration insists that my parents, who have lived almost their whole adult lives in Kuwait, should be sent back to India,” he said. “I went to the immigration and literally begged for their dependent visa, but they rejected my pleadings. I was very disappointed because they did not even bother to listen to my parents’ request. They told us to leave Kuwait, let our parents go back to India,” George told Kuwait Times.

“If they are back in India during this time of pandemic who will take care of them? My brother and I are both in Kuwait working and no one is available to look after them. At least we want to show our respect and our gratitude to our parents during the remaining days of their lives. But we are being compelled by the immigration policy to send them back to India,” he said.

“The whole of their lives my parents were spent in Kuwait. They were once a contributing part of the workforce in Kuwait and now that they are old and unable to work because of age, we must send them away?” The rules and policies regulating residents’ stay in Kuwait fails to take into consideration long time residents who might spend their entire working life here.

All residents-those born and raised here, those whose entire families are here, those with businesses and those who just came to this country recently for short term contracts-are treated the same when it comes to visas. They must be sponsored by a local company, work or be under a dependent visa, and these visas must be renewed annually.

There are more than 3 million foreign residents living and working in Kuwait. Over the last several years a growing backlash against foreigners has played out, with increasingly xenophobic statements by members of parliament and government policies aimed at reducing the foreign population. A government effort to Kuwaitize the civil service has also led to the mass firing of foreigners working in the public sector.

There are an estimated 365,000 expats stranded abroad due to COVID-19 travel restrictions, of which 147,000 with legal residency permits that have now expired. Kuwait also recently implemented a rule prohibiting the renewal of work visas for residents aged 60+ without a college degree. As a consequence, they are expecting to lose more than 50,000 residents from this age category.