On November 4, the Kuwait Public Authority for Manpower's (PAM) Board of Directors approved the cancellation of decision No. 520 of 2020 which had blocked migrants aged 60+ who hold less than a university degree from obtaining residency permits.
According to the new regulations, the above-mentioned residents can renew their permits for KD500 (1,656 USD) per year, in addition to the estimated cost of private health insurance (between KD500 and KD700 annually.)
Palestinian nationals, children of Kuwaiti women, and those born in Kuwait are exempt from the fees, according to Dr Abdullah Al-Salman, the Minister of Commerce and Industry.
On 16 August 2020, PAM’s director, Ahmed Al-Mousa, issued the controversial decision that prohibited issuing or renewing work permits for migrants aged 60 and above who hold high school diplomas or below.
At the time, it was estimated that the decision would have forced over 80,000 migrants to leave Kuwait. Many migrants expressed concern that the decision would split up their families and force some elderly parents to leave the country.
Since its announcement, the decision has sparked intense debate and criticism from various parts of Kuwaiti society. Several activists and civil society groups launched campaigns to end the ban. Real estate and business owners also opposed the decision, warning that it would cause significant disruption to Kuwait's economy and real estate market. It was reported that Muhammad Jassim Al-Saqr, head of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry, played a key role to revoke the ban decision.
Following the pushback, PAM’s Board of Directors decided in July 2021 to allow the renewal of permits for residents who are over 60 years of age and have a secondary qualification or less, in return for paying KD2,000 in annual fees. However, disagreements over the fees quickly erupted between members of the PAM board of directors and other stakeholders. Civil society and business groups complained that the fees were excessive and unjust.
While the business and civil society organisations decried the decision, the Kuwaiti Trade Union Federation (KTUF) supported increasing the fee for these migrants to KD2,000. According to Al-Qabas journalist Ali Al-Khaldi, KTUF’s support for the exorbitant fees resulted in a large number of migrant workers being cut off from their livelihoods, adding that a trade union voting against workers interests is a "strange event."
The controversy reached its climax when Dr Abdullah Al-Salman suspended PAM's director Ahmed Al-Mousa from his position on the grounds that he was not authorised to issue the ban. The board finally agreed to reduce the fees to KD500 on Thursday.
While the recent shift is a positive step, the fees remain excessive and discriminatory. According to Dr Fawaz Aljidie, a professor of public law at Kuwait University, the decision to impose the fee violates Articles 7 and 29 of the Kuwaiti constitution which guarantees equality and non-discrimination. Dr Khaled Al-Yaqout, international law and human rights professor, stated that the decision violates Article 7 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which specifies that “all are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law.”
Migrant-Rights.org calls on Kuwait's government to abolish discriminatory residency fees for all migrants, to allow those who left Kuwait due to the previous decision to return and to waive fines for those who stayed in Kuwait but were unable to renew their permits due to the decision.