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Numbers of undocumented children rising in Kuwait

‘Higher dependency visa cap, illegal status main causes’

KUWAIT: Nilda Oliva, head of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) in her office at the Philippines Embassy in Saddiq area. — Photo by Ben Garcia

There has been a steady rise in the number of undocumented children in Kuwait. Among the Filipinio community, the problem is reaching untenable levels. Lowincome expatriate parents cannot meet the salary cap, recently raised to KD 450, for dependent visas.

Parents who are themselves overstayers or absconders cannot obtain legal status for their children. This means that children live effectively off-grid and are unable to be registered for daycares or schools and cannot visit local clinics and hospitals, cannot receive government mandated vaccinations.

In October 2016, the Ministry of Interior (Immigration Department) raised the minimum salary required for expatriates to be allowed to sponsor their wives and children from KD 250 to KD 450 in a move expected to cut the number of foreign families in the country.

During the past 12-year period, the number of expatriates increased to record levels of around three million, constituting almost 70 percent of the total population of Kuwait.

The higher salary cap hit low wage workers hard, especially among the Egyptian, Filipino and Indian communities in Kuwait. “I confirm the steady rise of undocumented children,” said Nilda Oliva, head of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) at the Philippines Embassy. “We have noticed based on our annual report, it has risen to a considerable level since they could not secure residency permit when their [combined] salary is less than KD 450.”

According to Oliva, only in January this year, the embassy has processed about 27 undocumented children. It wasn’t the case few months before the imposition of KD 450 salary cap. “Before we only receive 3-10 kids per month against the 27 children just last month,” she argued. But she was thankful to the assistance being provided by the Kuwaiti government. “I always appeal for our countrymen who have kids without document to come forward and let’s help each other to give them necessary help. The problem is that there are parents who are legally staying in the country, they are legally married but they cannot process the residency because they were not able to reach the salary cap imposed by the government in July,” she said. The old salary cap was KD 250.

“The good thing is that Kuwaiti government has been cooperating with us to send undocumented kids back home, without penalty. However, the problem now is that, we have kids back home without parents, since they are left working in Kuwait,” Oliva noted.

Impacting real people
Bong and Marites (real names have been withheld) are one of the families impacted by the higher salary cap. They married in the Philippines in 2014. Before coming to Kuwait they had one kid and he’s three years old now.

In September 2016, the couple had their second child and she’s now six months old. “My husband draws KD 200 salary, I earn KD 120; so combined it’s only KD 320. Immigration Department told us that we need to at least have a combined salary of KD 450 to KD 500, our salary is too low for the salary cap being followed, so we cannot be allowed to sponsor our child. So till now, our kid is without residency,” she said. “I want my child to be with me in Kuwait. But I don’t want to be stressed and hide her all the time in our accommodation since she has no residency. I also heard that I cannot enroll her in any school in Kuwait if she has no residency; so I don’t want her to grow without schooling. My eldest child now is in the Philippines already in kindergarten. So my husband and I have decided to just send her back to the Philippines,” she said.

Another Filipino couple, Edgar and Vivian, are sending their 8-month-old baby to the Philippines in April because they cannot obtain a dependent visa for their son. “I feel very sad that we are going to be separated. Just the idea of letting my son go is very saddening. You don’t know how much I love my son, he’s my first born baby, but I have to decide now, I don’t want to have trouble with the Kuwait law,” Edgar said.

Edgar and Vivian married in 2013 back in the Philippines. The couple said that they are not comfortable when his only son has no residency permit. “I heard from people around that we must have KD 450 salary combined to sponsor a family. Our combined salary is KD 330, so, not enough to sponsor a family,” he told Kuwait Times.

Illegal parents = illegal children
Another Filipino family are about to be separated – with the wife and two children heading back to the Philippines – and the father remaining in Kuwait. Both parents are illegal, having both absconded from domestic service.

They both have cases against them but the wife and the two children have obtained travel documents to allow them to leave Kuwait. Both children were born inside an apartment in Kuwait rather than a hospital because the parents were fearful of being arrested if they sought medical help.

The children have not been vaccinated nor received any medical care until recently when the youngest developed an infection that required hospitalization. Case after case of parents trapped due to illegal status, debts or simply too-lower salaries are resulting in growing numbers of undocumented children, a problem that could have many long term consequences on Kuwait’s society.

By Ben Garcia

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