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March 1996, Volume 3, Number 3

Gulf States' Foreign Workers

A Saudi business group is asking the kingdom to allow foreigners to buy property and invest in the domestic stock market. Foreigners repatriated up to $13 billion in wages in 1995. Currently, non-Gulf Arabs are not permitted to trade in the Saudi stock market or buy property, but they can invest in mutual funds through Saudi banks. There are more than six million foreigners among the 17.9 million Saudi population.

Kuwait's Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs is considering limiting the term of residency permits for expatriate workers to one year. Under current law, residency permits for workers are issued for two to four years. The aim of the one-year permit would be to cut back on illegal visa trading and paper companies set up only for labor recruitment purposes. The proposed residency limit would not apply to foreign employees in the government sector or to maids. Kuwait issued over 800,000 visas to foreign workers in 1995.

About 1,000 foreign workers will be fired by the Kuwait Post Authority in the next three months as it tries to increase profitability. Most of the foreign workers are Arabs and Asians employed as clerks.

Since November 1994, Shia Muslims in Bahrain have protested the policies of the Sunni-led government. The official unemployment rate is 1.8 percent, but independent analysts claim the figure is closed to 10 to 15 percent, with most of the unemployed from the Shi'ite Muslim village communities.

Bahrain is trying to increase the number of nationals with jobs by offering training at special skills classes and offering preferential treatment for government contracts to companies which have better rates of employment for nationals.


"Kuwait reportedly plans visa crackdown," UPI, February 20, 1996. "Kuwait labour ministry may put residency limitations on foreigners," Deutsche Presse-Agentur, February 20, 1996. Barry May, "Jobs, not just politics at centre of Bahrain unrest," Reuters, February 19, 1996. "Kuwait Port Authority sheds workers," UPI, February 14, 1996. "Saudi Study Sees Plug for Foreign Cash Drain," Reuters, February 4, 1996.