According to officials, domestic workers in Kuwait accounted for nearly 50% of the 151,690 ‘residency violators’ in the country in 2021. Workers are considered in violation of their residency if they overstay their visas or if they terminate their employment without the employers’ consent and leave their homes. In the first instance, employers may fail to renew the worker’s visa, forcing them into irregularity. Workers who choose to leave their employers may do so in search of better opportunities, but most are pushed into this status because of wage theft or abuse.
Though undocumented workers face fines, detention, and deportation, employers responsible for their irregular status rarely face any repercussions. Complaints mechanisms priortise employers over workers, as evidenced in the Public Authority for Manpower's (PAM) most recent domestic workers' report: PAM received 183 employer complaints against recruitment agencies and 17 employer complaints against domestic workers, recovering a total of KD 76,670 (USD$251,300) in reparation for employers. But PAM recovered only KD 1,774 (USD$5,815) for 181 domestic workers who filed complaints against their employers.
Kuwait is facing a severe shortage in domestic workers due to Covid-19 travel restrictions, migration bans from origin countries, and, according to officials, a general lack of interest in recruitment to Kuwait. The country has come under scrutiny as a string of extraordinarily violent incidents against domestic workers have come to light in recent years, though issues involving wage theft and overwork are far more prevalent.
While the shortage may drive up recruitment costs, the beneficiaries are most often agencies and middlemen, not the workers themselves. Workers have previously reported being forced to stay in the country because their employers could not recruit new workers to replace them.
Covid-19 and Kuwaitisation policies have also caused a severe shortage in other sectors.