Was the Job Nationalization Project Successful?
An aerial view of Kuwait City taken in 2015. (Cajetan Barretto/Flickr)

Was the Job Nationalization Project Successful?

Al-Qabas, Kuwait, October 12

It is a well-known fact that Kuwait is ranked among the 20 richest countries in the world in terms of per capita income, as it owns about 102 billion barrels of oil, and constitutes about 6% of the total proven oil reserves in the world. However, of Kuwait’s total population of 4.8 million people, roughly 3.3 million are foreigners. A comprehensive plan has been launched in Kuwait with the aim of nationalizing jobs to raise the percentage of national employment in the private sector to 20% by the end of 2025. If this goal is achieved, Kuwait will become the first Gulf state to hit the mark. Originally, the project was scheduled to be completed within two to five years. It consisted of an overhaul of the work permit system, the localization of skills and the use of a foreign workforce only in highly specialized jobs. But the question today arises: What has the government accomplished on this matter in the past three years? The truth is that, despite its overall negative impact on the global economy, COVID-19 actually helped the Kuwaiti government with its plan to localize many of the jobs in the private sector. This was due to the mere fact that all foreign arrivals into Kuwait were suspended. However, the lack of foreign labor also emphasized just how dire the situation in Kuwait has been: work stopped almost completely, and the results on the ground were catastrophic. Kuwaiti unemployment skyrocketed as a result of the shrinking economy and the fact that most private sector employers enacted massive lay-offs. In other words, the government’s plan lacked any flexibility in dealing with unexpected emergency cases like the one we found ourselves in. Instead, the government was too captivated by a goal it set for itself to notice that its plan to achieve it was mediocre at best.  Now that international travel has resumed and borders are finally beginning to open up, foreign laborers are quickly beginning to return to Kuwait. But things don’t seem encouraging, since our economic activity fluctuates between partially active and completely halted. There’s no in between. So, what will happen next? Will the Kuwaiti government finally come up with realistic solutions and detailed plans? Or will it remain beholden to unrealistic decisions and improvised plans? – Fakhri Hashem Al-Sayed Rajab (translated by Asaf Zilberfarb)

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