Kuwait considering citizenship to attract more expats

by Ray Clancy on February 8, 2011

Kuwait considering opening citizenship

Kuwait wants to attract more expats as it fears many skilled workers end up in Dubai and it is struggling to fill jobs in technology and computing.

One idea under consideration is offering citizenship to skilled foreign workers in a bid to attract top-level workers if it is to diversify its economy away from oil revenues.

‘We could not have managed the oil industry without expats, especially at the beginning. If we are thinking about new avenues of industry and technology to beat others we need more people specialising in that,’ said Dr Sami Alfaraj, president of the Kuwait Center for Strategic Studies.

‘Dubai gets the crème of expats but foreign workers are vital for Kuwait. We see the expat community as part of the fabric of society,’ added Dr Alfaraj, who has advised the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Office of the Prime Minister.

The world’s fourth largest oil exporter is keen to diversify its oil dependent economy and emulate the success of commercial hub Dubai, but has struggled to pass key reforms following long standing political rows between parliament and the government.

Now Kuwait’s parliament is considering giving citizenship to top expatriate workers and their families as a means to fast track the overhaul of its economy, Dr Alfaraj confirmed.

The Gulf state has made efforts to overhaul its labour laws, announcing last year it would scrap its worker sponsorship system in favour of allowing businessmen to sponsor themselves.

Mohammed Al-Ifasi, Kuwait’s Minister of Social Affairs and Labour, has said the country may scrap its existing sponsorship network, commonly known as the ‘kafeel’ system. In its place, expatriates would be allowed to transfer their work permits without gaining the consent of the current sponsors, and would allow certain businessmen in underserviced sectors to sponsor themselves.

However campaigners Human Rights Watch has warned it could be the creation of a two-tier system where unskilled workers, including those working in hotels and in domestic employments, would be poorly treated.

It also says that the so-called stateless ‘Bedoon’ people, long-time residents of Kuwait originally from the deserts of Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Iran who have not been granted citizenship, should be given nationality too.

‘Kuwait continues to exclude the stateless Bedoon people from full citizenship, despite their longstanding roots in Kuwaiti territory. The Bedoon also face discrimination accessing education, health care, and employment, as well as violations of their right to marry and establish a family because they are not allowed to register births, marriages, or deaths,’ a spokesman said.

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