Kuwait to Restrict Expat Workers

Kuwait to Restrict Expat Workers

A large, marginalized Arab ethnic group in Kuwait will replace foreign workers, as the emirate struggles to recover from COVID-19 and deal with increasing anti-immigrant sentiment.

Ahmed Moussa, head of the Public Authority for Manpower (PAM) at the Persian Gulf emirate, told the paper that the Tayseer platform would be launched on Sunday as part of a joint effort with the Central Agency for Dealing with Illegal Residents. “This platform aims to put [the Bidoon] in place of the expatriate labor to preserve the demographic make-up, safeguard their rights under the umbrella of law and give them the chance [to work] in a way commensurate with their qualifications and leanings,” he remarked.

In March 2022, several Bidoon staged a hunger strike which lasted several weeks, in an attempt to change government policies toward Bidoon.

Bidoons and Kuwaitis

These issues are not unusual in this emirate. Kuwait has more stateless people than any other country in the region. Most people in the West, including the authors of this blog, have probably never heard of the Bidoon. 

These people live throughout the region, mostly in Kuwait but also in Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Qatar, Bahrain, and the United Arab Emirates. Until 1985, when the Iran-Iraq war was raging, Bidoons in Kuwait were naturalized citizens by law. Bidoons were fully integrated into society. In fact, as many as 90% of the soldiers in Kuwait’s army, even as late as the 1990 Gulf War, were Bidoons.

In 1985, mostly because the government was afraid Bidoon had divided loyalties, the Kuwaitis suddenly revoked Bidoon citizenship and declared they were “illegal residents.” When a gumna tried to assassinate Kuwaiti emir Jaber Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah, in 1985, the government blamed the Bidoon and initiated a crackdown. 

Initially, authorities refused to issue drivers’ licenses, birth certificates, marriage certificates, death certificates, identity cards, and any other official documents to Bidoon. Beginning in the mid 1990s, the government interned many Bidoon in refugee camps in desolate areas near the Iraqi border. According to some, as many as 150,000 of the country’s 300,000 Bidoon were confined in these camps.

More recently, in 2019, Iran began offering citizenship to Bidoon living in Kuwait, probably in an attempt to destabilize the country. The new employment program is most likely a response to that initiative. Kuwait is also under pressure from European countries, such as the United Kingdom, to change its policies, because of the large number of Bidoon asylum-seekers making their way to Europe.

Most likely, Bidoon are thrilled to have employment prospects. However, once they start working in Kuwait’s dangerous construction industry, they might change their minds. More on that below.

In contrast, most people are probably at least somewhat familiar with Kuwait. The emirate was the epicenter of the 1990 Gulf War and a key staging area for the Iraq War which began in 2003. Over 10,000 American servicemembers, along with a large number of private military contractors, are still in-country.

Bolstered by its close affiliation with the United States, Kuwait had a higher Human Development Index rating than any other Arab country between 2006 and 2009. Then, things started going bad.

In 2014, the international community first accursed Kuwait of sponsoring terrorism, mostly ISIS and al-Qaeda. By the next year, many sources claimed Kuwait was the biggest terrorist sponsor in the world. 

That same year, 2015, a suicide bomber killed twenty-seven people and injured over 200 others at a Kuwait City mosque. The unsettling attack caused some people to question whether the government could keep them safe.

The hits kept coming. In the late 2010s, a worldwide oil price slump, which may have been triggered by OPEC, effectively crippled the Kuwaiti economy. The economic crisis created political deadlock, and the downward spiral continued.

Now, the United States is in a difficult position. It needs to support one of its most important allies in the region without alarming jittery citizens. That’s where private military contractors come in.

Contractor Injuries

Much of this bolstering involves construction projects. These projects improve military infrastructure for the Americans and pump some non-oil money into the Kuwaiti economy. It is win-win.

Construction jobs are dangerous in the United States. These jobs are even more dangerous in overseas countries where labor laws are weak or nonexistent. Common construction site injuries include:

  • Falls: A fall from as little as four stories above ground is usually fatal. Such falls are especially common in tiny countries like Kuwait, where there is nowhere to build but up.
  • Struck By: If Max drops his hammer on his toe, he will probably need first aid. If Max drops his hammer from three or four stories above ground and it strikes a pedestrian, the impact is probably fatal.
  • Electrocution: These incidents could cause several kinds of fatal injuries, such as falls, severe burns, and heart attacks. An electrocution’s arc blast reaction usually throws victims through the air. Furthermore, the energy running through an electric wire is often hotter than the sun. Finally, this electrical surge is more than most bodies can handle.
  • Caught Between: These accidents usually involve large construction vehicles. A victim is “caught between” the vehicle and a fixed object.

Making matters worse, the nearest medical facility usually is not close by when contractors are injured in Kuwait. Therefore, a serious injury could become a catastrophic or fatal injury.

Injury Compensation Available

When these injuries strike, most families lose their primary or only source of income. Therefore, the Defense Base Act replaces lost wages, as follows:

  • Temporary Total Disability: Most deployment-related injuries are completely disabling. These victims cannot work as they recover. So, the Defense Base Act usually pays two-thirds of the victim’s average weekly wage for the duration of the disability.
  • Temporary Partial Disability: Frequently, as victims recover, they are able to go back to work on a limited basis. However, they must accept a lower-paying stateside position that offers light duty and is close to the facility where they receive medical treatment. To bridge the financial gap, the DBA usually pays two-thirds of the difference between the old and new incomes.
  • Permanent Partial Disability: Frequently, recovering victims reach their MMI (Maximum Medical Improvement) before they fully heal. For example, a shoulder injury could mean permanent loss of motion in the joint. The DBA compensates these victims for their future lost wages. The amount of compensation usually depends on the nature of the disability and a few other factors.
  • Permanent Total Disability: Despite the best efforts of doctors and physical therapists, some victims are unable to work following their injuries. So, the DBA also compensates these victims for their future lost wages.

These benefits are also available to occupational disease victims. This category includes things like repetitive stress disorders and toxic exposure issues.

For more information about DBA medical bill payments, contact Barnett, Lerner, Karsen, Frankel & Castro, P.A.