Statements by Social Affairs Minister and State Minister for Economic Affairs Hind Al-Subaih about the imbalance in the population structure, and what was published on social media about the population data and percentage of non-Kuwaiti residents reaching nearly 70 percent of the total population of 4.4 million, drew many reactions. Most of them were negative, although this imbalance has been present for a long time and continuing for more than 60 years.
Kuwait’s population, according to the first census in 1957, was nearly 206,000, and Kuwaitis made up 55 percent of it. Then, with construction, development, economic growth and abundance of oil since Kuwait’s independence, the population structure changed in favor of expats. Census numbers in 1965 said the percentage of non-Kuwaitis was around 64 percent of the population then. Their numbers continued to rise until their percentage reached nearly 72 percent in 1985, as the census showed for that year. That percentage reached its lowest in the few years that followed the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait.
The demographic plan expects the Kuwaiti growth rate to increase by 2.7 percent and this will lead to reducing the percentage of expats from 70 percent now to 68.7 percent, which is a small percentage without a doubt, but it prevents more deterioration of the situation. I believe this is a realistic percentage although small, and I agree with what the economic affairs minister said, that we need 15 years to reach to a 40 vs 60 percent ratio between Kuwaitis and others.
When we look at the expat community, we find that it is characterized by a male majority at 67 percent of the total, and due to the nature of most expats’ work, we find that they have a low level of education, as the percentage of those with intermediate education and lower is 71 percent, because most expat laborers work in the construction, building and family service sectors, and this makes it difficult to replace them with Kuwaiti workers. Around five percent of expats are in violation of the residency law.
Expats’ percentage reached 59 percent in 1995, then started to rise until we reached the current percentage. Labor used in the various development projects contributed to this increase, such as construction of roads, oil sector projects, hospitals, the opera house and bridges.
The population balance and correcting the population structure was and still is the most notable of the goals of the various five-year development plans in Kuwait since we started preparing them. We, for example, find that one of the main goals of the five-year plan 2010-2014 includes facing the population structure imbalance and increasing citizens’ proportion to 35 percent of total population, but this was not achieved and the state did not succeed as the numbers mentioned above indicate. The current plan 2015-2019 indicates the “absence of a clear vision of population policy” within one of the most current challenges in the field of human development.
The current plan aims, within other goals related to human development, to reduce the growth rate of expats to 2.4 percent from 3.58 percent in 2014 as interior ministry data show. Realigning the population structure requires cooperation from all, as there are many suggested solutions that were repeated and approved in multiple development plans, most of which did not see the light of day, so it is necessary to reconsider the economic and social philosophy of the state. Education should be developed and taken better care of, and graduates should be linked with requirements of the marketplace.
Some took advantage of citizenship for welfare gains by trading in residencies and commercial licenses. I hope that the state is serious about fighting residency trade, as it included it in its current five-year plan, and that its method should not be the same as that of fighting corruption at the municipality, and MPs should hold it accountable if it becomes lax in this regard. The sponsorship system must be abolished and a more efficient and less corrupt system should be found. The sponsorship system contributes to defects in the marketplace, distorts wages and harms Kuwait’s reputation. There must be seriousness in eradicating corruption and resolving the bedoon issue.
We must change our lifestyle, because it is not realistic for us to rely on this number of expats in our homes for raising our children and demand the state to correct the population structure. The miserable suggestions such as imposing fees on expat transfers and others are not beneficial and will create a black market and a secondary market that will be difficult to control, and the cost of implementing and supervising it will be higher than the benefit to be gained.
Dealing with imbalance of the economic structure with a ‘Trumpish’ suggestion and ‘populist’ laws and procedures is not beneficial, and is economically, socially and politically costly. Our need for expat labor will continue and in large numbers, because of the growing number of requests for housing and the living standard of Kuwaiti families, our dependence on expats for services in our daily life, and our need for various services provided by teachers, doctors and engineers. The need for expats is an economic, social and political necessity, and it is a must to deal with the population structure based on this principle. – Translated by Kuwait Times (the same article was published yesterday in Al-Jarida Arabic daily).
By Abdelmajeed Al-Shatti