KUWAIT: More foreign workers came to Kuwait last year compared to 2011, according to official statistics, which show a notable difference between the number of work permits issued and the actual labor forces who entered the local market. According to figures quoted by Al-Jarida yesterday, 138,433 work permits were released in 2012, which have showed an increase by 591 compared to 2011. Meanwhile, they show that the number of new labor forces who came to Kuwait was 92,355, and that 58 percent of the work permits were issued in favor of government contracts and projects. The statistics were made available to the newspaper by Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor sources who requested anonymity because they did not have the permission to reveal the information. Meanwhile, the sources revealed that 644,116 work visas were renewed last year which was up by 86,017 compared to 2011. On the other hand, visa transfer operations in the public sector reached 173,864 last year, down by nearly 12,000 compared to a year before.

The number of visas transferred from the private to the public sector reached 3,958, while the number of visitor’s visas that were transferred to work visas reached around 13,000. Furthermore, the statistics indicate that 7,485 dependency visas were transferred to work visas in the private sector, while 17,540 Article 20 visas given to domestic workers were transferred to Article 18 visas which are issued to private sector employees. According to the statistics, around 67,000 visas for expatriate workers were canceled last year either because of travel or death. In other news, Al-Anba daily reported yesterday that the Civil Service Council was scheduled to approve the new organizational structure for the Manpower Public Authority, which will replace the sponsorship system in handling expatriate labor recruitment duties. The parliament passed a law to establish the authority earlier this year and the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor launched efforts to set the body up under its supervision with hopes of starting operations before the year ends. Once that happens, the plan is to have the authority handle private companies’ demand for expatriate labor forces, effectively replacing the sponsorship system that has come under pressure over the past few years. Separately, the Kuwait Trade Union Federation warned in a recent statement that procedures to close companies which violate labor regulations could prove more harmful for workers who would lose their jobs in the process.

Local dailies on Sunday quoted Jamal Al- Dousary, MSAL Undersecretary Assistant for the Labor Sector who said that files of 88 companies are currently under investigations while 14 firms have already been shut down. “Al-Dousary’s statements do not provide explanations regarding the fate of employees of those companies, and even adds to the obscurity of the situation when he later indicated that all visas registered in a company’s file will become void once the company is shut down”, said Abdurrahman Al-Ghanim, Head of the KTUF’s Expatriate Labor Forces Office. He further questioned whether the ministry has taken into account “the legal, economic, social and humanitarian repercussions” of those steps, as well as the fate of “thousands of workers who will effectively become wanted for illegal residence for no mistake of theirs”. And while Al-Ghanim whose statements were published by Al-Qabas yesterday, applauded the ministry’s efforts to fight irregularities in the labor market including visa trafficking, he reiterated demands for scrapping the sponsorship system as “the real solution to the abnormal conditions in the labor market”.

Kuwait has been the subject of criticism from rights groups over the past few years over human rights violations resulting mostly from practices relating to problems in the sponsorship system. For example, the system has loopholes which are exploited by visa traffickers to release work permits for fake companies or nonexistent job openings, and then sell them to unskilled labor forces looking for a chance to work in the oil-rich Gulf region. Once they reach Kuwait, workers in most cases end up with no jobs, resort to accepting hard labor, and often live without valid visas. Kuwait is home to 2.6 million expatriates who make 68 percent of the country’s 3.8 million population, while official state figures indicate that there are nearly 90,000 living illegally in the country. Minister of Social Affairs and Labor Thekra Al- Rashidi announced last March that the government has a ‘demographic balance restoration plan’ which calls for deporting 100,000 foreigners each year as part of a scheme to cut the country’s expatriate population by one million within a decade. No details were since given regarding the mechanism to execute those plans.