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Nationalisation of workforce in the Gulf region – A threat to India’s expatriates

Nationalisation of workforce in the Gulf region – A threat to India’s expatriates

UPSC CSE Mains Syllabus: GS-2-  Effect of policies and politics of developed and developing countries on India’s interests, Indian Diaspora.

In news:

  • The Kuwait National Assembly (NA) is discussing several proposals to reduce the share of foreigners in the country’s population, which is now pegged at 70%.
  • There are many proposals under consideration, and one is to put country caps on the number of emigrants in the country.
  • In this, the plan is that Indians should not exceed 15% of Kuwaiti citizens, while Egyptians, Bangladeshis and Filipinos among others must not each exceed 10% of Kuwaitis.

GCC’s push for nationalisation of the workforce :

  • Kuwaitis are a minority in Kuwait. Of the total population of 4.3 million, Kuwaitis are 1.3 million, which is less than one third.
  • Gulf countries are not very open about population data because citizens are a minority.
  • This has been a lingering concern in all GCC countries — Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates — but the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic renewed the debate.
  • In the past, high unemployment among the natives, economic crisis and demographic imbalance had triggered movement for nationalisation of the workforce.
  • Arab Spring added a new concern of political stability among the regimes.
  • COVID-19 exposed the huge concentration of certain populations among the expatriates, and the resulting imbalances.

Indian community in Kuwait:

  • According to the Indian Embassy in Kuwait, besides the million-plus who are in the country as legal workforce, there are about 10,000 Indian nationals who have overstayed their visas.
  • The Indian community in Kuwait has been growing at 5-6% per annum until the economic crisis triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic put an abrupt stop to immigration to the country.
  • Indians are the largest expatriate community and Egyptians are the second largest.
  • Three fourths, or about 7.5 lakh Indians are males as against only 2.5 lakh females.
  • It is estimated that 5.23 lakh Indians are deployed in the private sector, as construction workers, technicians, engineers, doctors, chartered accountants, IT experts, etc.
  • About 1.16 lakh are dependents and there are about 60,000 Indian students studying in 23 Indian schools in the country; about 3.27 lakh are domestic workers (i.e. drivers, gardeners, cleaners, nannies, cooks and housemaids) who are not allowed to bring their spouses/children into the country.
  • About 28,000 Indians work for the Kuwaiti government in various jobs such as nurses, engineers in national oil companies, and a few as scientists. In 2018, India received nearly $4.8 billion from Kuwait as remittances.
  • If Indians cannot exceed 15% of Kuwaitis, the cap would be around two lakh.
  • Migration studies experts warn that calculations regarding the potential numbers that could be affected by the law are based on estimates which are various.
  • Around eight million Indians work in the GCC countries.
  • Around 2.1 million of them are from one State — Kerala.
  • Other major contributors to the Indian expatriate communities in GCC countries are Uttar Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Bihar, West Bengal, Punjab and Rajasthan.

What is being done:

  • Kuwait’s Prime Minister had said, “the ideal population structure is to have 70 per cent Kuwaitis and 30 per cent non-Kuwaitis”.
  • Currently, it is the other way around.
  • Such a turnaround will require a drastic and impossible reduction in the country’s total population and the concerns about the proposal are overhyped.
  • It is difficult to foresee any law on this being made during the current term of the NA.
  • If and when it is made, there could be measures to gradually reduce the proportion of foreigners.

What may happen:

  • A renewed push for nationalisation of jobs and diversification of expatriates is possible.
  • However, the structure of the GCC economies makes any dramatic change unlikely.
  • Nationalisation of government jobs can be achieved to a significant extent, but the private sector will continue to draw the majority of its workforce from abroad.
  • The costs associated with hiring a citizen are too prohibitive for the private sector, which will leave the country if it is forced to.
  • There is a social stratification in GCC countries that has natives at the top, followed by white professionals from the U.S. and Europe, immigrants from other Arab countries and then others including workers from India.
  • There is a division of labour among these classes and that cannot be changed in a hurry.
  • Replacement of Indian or Asian workers on a large scale is not possible, and native Arabs will not do certain categories of work,
  • Indian should consider such proposals and engage with GCC in securing its interests. Meanwhile, efforts could be taken to resettle the expatriates.

Source:”Indian Express/The Hindu”


The Indian expatriate population in Gulf regions has been beneficial in multiple ways; however, disruptions are meant to occur in near future. Elucidate. How could India manage an expatriate crisis?