Middle East anti-foreigner measures may be softening

Published:  17 Feb at 6 PM
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Kuwait and Saudi Arabia’s u-turn on the proposed expat stay restrictions may indicate that the Arab world’s crackdown on foreigners is easing.

The Gulf States’ recent attempts to reduce their numbers of foreign workers in order to provide jobs for nationals has been seen by many as prejudicial and ultimately dangerous for their economies. Saudi Arabia’s draft Saudization plans to limit expat workers’ stay to eight years and forbid their families from joining them was the most controversial in a raft of proposals across the region.

However, recent reports state that the Saudi government has postponed the introduction of the plan, stating that more research is needed into its long-term effect. Over a million workers left the kingdom last year during a crackdown on employees without visas.

During 2013, Kuwait restricted expat access to public hospitals and removed subsides on electricity and water bills formerly offered to foreign residents. In January, a Kuwaiti MP urged that a five-year limit should be placed on expat visas and, earlier, a plan to remove 100,000 expat every year for a decade was put forward.

However, officials from the Kuwaiti Government Manpower and Restructuring Program this week rejected the five-year limit on the grounds that several sectors could not function without expatriate workers. It remains to be seen whether a softening of the hard line against expats will spread across the region, as other emirates are still displaying anti-foreigner sentiments.

The UAE, for example, along with its immediate neighbours, is focusing on Arabic-speaking employees as they are less expensive to hire than expat professionals. A recent suggestion from a member of one of its ruling families that expats should be allowed to become citizens caused a storm of negative comments, indicating that prejudice is still a major hurdle for expats working in the region.
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