NEW DELHI: Anxiety has gripped hundreds of thousands of overseas Indian workers in Kuwait following a new bill to introduce quotas on migrant laborers.
The bill proposed by the Gulf state’s National Assembly last month seeks to limit the number of Indian residents and workers to 15 percent of the country’s population, requiring about 800,000 Indians to return home.
Kuwait’s population of 4.3 million includes at least 1.45 million Indians.
Allepu Ravi, from Argul village in the south Indian state of Telangana, has worked for 18 years as a driver in Kuwait. “I have been restless and sleepless ever since I came to know that the Kuwaiti Parliament is discussing a bill to bring down the migrant population,” he said.
“There is no job in Telangana for me. I don’t have any land,” said the 36-year-old, who sends $340 back to his family in India each month. “What will I do here? My three young children and wife will have to beg on the streets for survival.”
The same fears are gripping 28-year-old Bodaasu Swamy, also from Telangana, who has been living in Kuwait for the past 8 years, and like Ravi, works as a driver.
“I got married six months ago and was looking forward to a comfortable life. If Kuwait bans us, I’ll be doomed,” he told Arab News.
Most Indian migrants working in Kuwait come from South India, from states such as Telangana and especially Kerala, which supplies 70 percent of the Indian workforce in the country.
According to data from the Indian Embassy in Kuwait, at least 28,000 Indians in the country are employed in the public sector as health workers, engineers in national oil companies and scientists. About 523,000 are employed in the private sector, while there are 116,000 dependents and 60,000 students from India.
Migrant welfare organizations are also concerned by the proposed legislation.
“It’s a great worry for us if so many people lose jobs in Kuwait. It will affect the livelihoods of thousands of families in Telengana and South India,” said Patkuri Basanth Reddy, who works for the welfare of migrant workers.
“At least 400,000 people have already returned from the Gulf to India following the COVID-19 crisis and their future is uncertain. What will happen if Kuwait really enacts the proposed bill? It’s a nightmare scenario. The Indian government should take it seriously and engage Kuwait and the Gulf countries and ask them not to jeopardize the interests of the workers,” he said.
The Indian government says it is “closely following developments” in Kuwait. Anurag Srivastva, the Indian Foreign Ministry spokesman, told reporters on July 16 that “the matter was recently discussed between the foreign ministers of both sides.”
He said: “We share excellent bilateral ties and these ties are deeply rooted in our people-to-people links. We have shared our expectation with the Kuwaiti side that their decision will take this into account.”
Some analysts have said the situation is temporary and will return to normal once the COVID-19 pandemic subsides.
“I am not worried. The talk in Kuwait is because of the pandemic. For the last 20 years, Gulf countries have been talking about reducing the number of migrant workers every time they are faced with a crisis,” Prof. S. Irudaya Rajan, an expert on international migration from the Centre for Development Studies, a Kerala-based think tank, told Arab News.
“When the pandemic is gone, no one will talk about it. I believe post-COVID-19 there will be greater demand for migration. There will be a new migration corridor and new opportunities,” he said.
Former ambassador Anil Trigunayat, who served in several Middle Eastern countries, told Arab News that because Indians represent the largest portion of the non-Arab workforce in the Gulf country, Kuwait’s quota system will affect the flow of remittances to India.
“This repatriation will have an impact on employment as well as the amount of remittances. It will have to be addressed by Indian authorities in a more efficient and planned manner,” he said.
In 2018, Indian workers in Kuwait sent home almost $4.8 billion in remittances.
However, Trigunayat said many Indian workers will find opportunities in the Gulf once economies restart after the pandemic.
“Because of excellent bilateral relations and the goodwill of the Indian workforce, they will be the first ones invited back by Gulf countries once the economic cycle takes a positive turn,” he said.