Earlier this month, the Ministry of Interior announced a partial amnesty for all illegal residents in Kuwait. The decision will allow residency violators to pay their fines and either legalize their status or leave the country without being blacklisted. This means that they will be allowed to return on a new visa in the future (if they so wish and if they can find a job and if they can pay a recruiter – all big ‘ifs’).
The catch is that the amnesty will only apply for those who voluntarily turn themselves in. Any residency violator or absconder caught will be deported and banned from ever returning to Kuwait – though they too still have to pay all outstanding fines. Under normal circumstances, the fine for illegal residency is KD 2 per day and this is capped at a maximum of KD 600. The MoI stated that all residency departments in Kuwait are ready to receive violators in order to rectify their legal status, pay fines and leave the country.
This is good news for violators who have the money to pay their fines. But what about those who face legal cases and need the amnesty to rectify their status, but have no money? Workers abscond or lose their residency for a variety of reasons. Yes, some are dishonest criminals who flee their employers to try and make more money on the black market. Some, however, are running from abuse and mistreatment or have been thrown out of the house by unscrupulous employers. Most would return to their homes except for the mountains of debt they went into to pay for a job in Kuwait. There are sadly all too many cases of workers running away after they didn’t receive their salaries and their sponsors tried to cancel their visas or report them as absconding.
The reasons for illegals
We need a thorough investigation into the causes for absconding and residency violation and to hold not only the workers but also sponsors accountable. So far, I see the interior ministry is focusing on the legal aspects, but no one from the labor ministry is concerned about why tens of thousands of people violated their residency status in the first place. Were they paid their salaries? Or were they facing abuse? Or what reasons led to their illegal situation?
Human rights and protecting the workers
Another issue here is how to protect their human rights from possible revenge by their sponsors when they are arrested or when they come on their own will to clear their status. Sponsors should be held accountable for the fines. I can’t imagine that the worker will pay it after all. This issue is not as simple as it seems. But in some cases, it can be a help for those who have “ghost” sponsors.
Some Kuwaitis sponsors expats in exchange for an annual fee. It’s another moneymaking scheme. So they don’t really know what this person does for a living, and the worker goes freely to live and work as he/she wishes. The threat here is when they fall into trouble, the sponsor will be held responsible. This is fair and in this case I guess the sponsor must be punished for being a visa trader. In a few cases, the sponsor may forget to renew the residency of his workers and they will be asked to pay the fine.
The ministry recently conducted a series of crackdowns in areas known to be inhabited by large numbers of workers and illegal residents including Jleeb Al-Shuyoukh, Ardiya, Bneid Al-Gar and the vegetable market in Sulabiya, and many illegals were arrested. The MoI will now allow residency violators in Kuwait to have the chance to set their status right and at least in some cases, they will have the right to choose.
By Muna Al-Fuzai