Latest statistics from the Central Administration of Statistics (CAS) show that the number of expatriates in the country has declined from around 2,891,255 in 2018 to 2,520,301 in 2021 which means approximately 371,000 foreigners have left the labor market for good over the past three years.

The figures also show that expatriates who obtained work permits in the government sector decreased during the above mentioned period by about 11,000 going from 107,657 in 2018 to 96,800 in 2021, which can be attributed to the implementation of the Kuwaitization policy initiated by the Civil Service Commission in 2017. Expectations are that this number will further decrease as the policy of Kuwaitization continues.

Decline in the number of workers was not limited to the government sector, with the private sector also witnessing a 18.4 percent fall in workers — from 1,531, 000 workers in 2018 to 1,249,000 in 2021. The CAS data also revealed a decrease in the number of domestic workers by about 115,700, bringing their number in 2021 down to about 591,368 from more than 707,000 in 2018.

Fall in the number of domestic workers has been attributed largely to the COVID-19 crisis. Since the start of the global pandemic in 2020, a large number of domestic workers have left for their home country, and many have not been able to return in 2021 due to the then prevailing ban on flights to Kuwait, and new laws that present a hurdle to the recruitment of workers from abroad.

The only segment of the labor market that saw an increase in numbers during the three-year period from 2018 to 2021 were illegal workers who were in violation of labor and residency laws. The number of illegal workers rose by 51,000 from 100,560 violators in 2018 to 151,690 in 2021.

The more than 50 percent hike in the number of law violators who chose to remain in Kuwait without proper visas or work permits, comes despite multiple amnesty offers by the government that allowed this category of people to leave the country without paying any violation fines, or to remain by rectifying their legal status.

The CAS statistics raises several interesting questions. The number of legal workers in the labor market is decreasing due to Kuwaitization policies in the public sector, or from loss of jobs or lack of steady and adequate salaries in the private sector. But the number of illegal workers in the market, who do not possess proper work permits or visas is increasing. So what gives? Is it inefficacious policies, ineffectual policing, or incompetent implementation; you decide.

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