October 1996 Volume 3 Number 10
Saudi Arabia and Kuwait: Reduce Dependence on Foreigners?
In Saudi Arabia, where six of seven service workers are foreigners, the government has hired foreign firms to teach young Saudis desirable work traits such as punctuality, reliability, and courtesy and is trying to persuade employers to hire Saudis by prohibiting the admission of foreign secretaries.
The government also requires firms to increase the number of Saudis in their work forces by five percent each year.
On the supply side of the labor market, the government is offering native youth up to $190 per week to attend one-year courses designed to turn them into desirable service workers.
The Deputy Labor Minister says that "Every job filled by a foreigner is considered a temporary job to be filled by a Saudi whenever it is possible." Many employers reportedly prefer foreigners because they work for $500 per month, and they can be deported if fired, versus $1,000 per month expected by Saudis.
When Iraq invaded Kuwait in August 1990, there were about 650,000 Kuwaiti citizens and 1.4 million foreign workers in Kuwait. The war reduced the number of foreign workers to about 700,000.
After seven-month occupation by Iraq ended, the Kuwaiti government expelled 700,000 Palestinian, Jordanian, and Yemeni guest workers in a bid for self-reliance. However, by 1992, newspapers were reporting that foreigners once again dominated the labor force, this time Egyptians, Iranians and Asians.
Today, Kuwait finds itself as reliant on foreign workers as before--six of seven workers is a foreigners. Egyptians, Pakistanis, Filipinos and others fill jobs that the Palestinians left behind. Most foreigners are in Kuwait without their families, and many work six days each week.
Kuwaitis comprise just 16 percent of the workforce. Each Kuwaiti is guaranteed a job, and 93 percent are government employees. Kuwaiti wages are double those paid to foreigners, and many leave their jobs at lunch. As a early half of the government's expenses go to government salaries compared to one-third to defense.
Today, Kuwait's population is two million, 1.3 million of whom are non-Kuwaitis, according to the most recent government statistics. Of a total labor force of 1.1 million, only 176,000 are Kuwaiti citizens.
Kuwait has a per capita income of $23,000, and an estimated 10 percent of the world's oil reserves.
There are 720,000 Kuwaiti citizens, but only 107,000 can vote--only men who can trace their ancestry back at least one generation are allowed to vote. In September, there were demonstrators by Kuwaiti women demanding the right to vote.
Kuwait has reduced the number of "bidoon" or stateless residents, from 117,000 to 220,000 since the Gulf War. Most are of Iranian or Iraqi origin and some have lived in Kuwait for generations. The government does not plan to grant them citizenship, and has purged many bidoon from the Kuwaiti military.
Kuwait plans to build an electric fence along its 130-mile border with Iraq.
Douglas Jehl, "For Kuwaitis, Self-Reliance Proves an Elusive Goal," New York Times, September 24, 1996. "Manila reports Saudi Arabia continues to be Mecca for workers," Deutsche Presse-Agentur, September 21, 1996. Daniel Pearl, "Certain Work Is Foreign to Saudis, But That's Changing," Wall Street Journal, September 12, 1996. Peter Waldman, "Foreigners sweat to build Kuwait, as citizens flex only financial muscle," Wall Street Journal, May 28, 1992.