As of January 1, 2021, Kuwait has put in place a decision to stop renewing residency permits of non-Kuwaitis above the age of 60 and who hold a high school degree or less.
The decision was introduced back in 2020, but was only brought into force at the beginning of this year.
Many have criticised the move, calling it illogical and discriminatory as it seeks to expel thousands of people and their families who have resided in Kuwait and contributed to its development.
On Sunday, a campaign titled “I am against the decision” took social media by storm as people across the board voiced their opposition to the decision, with many demanding that it be amended or annulled.
The campaign gained traction after Mohammad Sharraf, a Kuwaiti visual artist, posted a photo on Twitter that read ‘I am against the decision to stop renewing the residency permits of non-Kuwaitis above 60 and holding a high school degree of less’.
Sharraf told Gulf News he posted the statement because he believes the decision “is not fair”.
While the situation has been in place for the past few months, Sharraf explained that what made him post the Tweet on Sunday was an article published by Manshoor, a Kuwait-based news outlet, which discussed the topic.
Campaign goes viral
The campaign gained traction on social media, with the hashtag trending across Kuwait and thousands of citizens and residents calling for the decision to be rescinded immediately.
“I hope that the campaign goes beyond the hashtag and social media and gets picked up by lawyers, human rights activists and politicians,” Sharraf said.
He explained that for now, no MPs have responded to the campaign, despite the fact that he tried to target some in the hopes that they would join in.
Not ready to leave
Around 220,000 non-Kuwaitis above the age of 60 reside in Kuwait, according to the 2020 population census published by the Central Statistical Bureau. While not all are affected by the decision, many within the age group will be forced to leave simply because they do not have a higher education degree.
One is Michel, a 59-year old Lebanese national, who said that like many other people of his age, he did not receive a university degree because at the time it was not deemed essential to enter the workforce.
If the decision is not reversed, Michel might be forced to leave by the end of the year as he will be turning 60 around the same time his residency permit is set to expire.
“I’ve lived in Kuwait for around 40 years. I met my wife in Kuwait, our children were born and raised in Kuwait. Our whole life is in Kuwait. We do not want to leave,” Michel told Gulf News.
Like many other non-Kuwaitis, Michel explained that he is a partner in a real estate company and is unsure what will happen to the company if he is forced to leave. He said: “The last year has been especially hard on us because of the pandemic; we already are not making as much profit as we used to. So if we have to leave, we will lose everything. I don’t know where I can go.”
Similarly, Nimal, a 66-year-old Sri Lankan national who has been working in Kuwait for around 34 years is also concerned about what will happen to him once his visa expires in two months’ time.
“I came to Kuwait to provide for my family and I am not ready to leave Kuwait because I still want to earn more money to make sure that we have enough for the future,” Nimal told Gulf News.
Rise in xenophobia
Throughout the past year, many politicians, public figures and governmental officials have pointed out the demographic imbalance, where 70 per cent of the population is made up of non-Kuwaiti and have sought to bring down that ratio.
Last year, Prime Minister Sabah Al Khaled Al Sabah said Kuwait should reduce the percentage of non-Kuwaiti from 70 to 30 per cent.
On several occasions, the previous legislative term put forth multiple draft laws to curb the number of non-Kuwaitis residing in Kuwait.
The COVID-19 pandemic contributed to the rise in xenophobic rhetoric. At the start of the pandemic, a famous Kuwaiti actress, Hayat Al Fahad, stated that expats should be forced out of Kuwait to ensure that there are enough hospital beds for Kuwaitis if they fell sick. During an interview with a local TV show, Al Fahad said, “If their countries do not want them, why should we deal with them? We should kick them out … put them in the desert.”
“We love Kuwait as much as we love our own country. Even my children feel more at home in Kuwait than they do in Lebanon,” Michel said.