On May 26, 2022, Kuwait’s Parliamentary Committee of Interior and Defense approved for consideration by the country’s National Assembly a new draft law concerning the residency of foreigners. The draft law contains amendments aimed at broadening the scope of Royal Decree No. 17 of 1959 on the Residence of Foreigners Law, especially with regard to foreign investors and visitors. The amendments would also impose harsher penalties for fake job sponsorships and visa fraud. The National Assembly will now debate and vote on whether the new draft law should replace the 1959 decree.
Context of the Amendments
Kuwait has the third-largest expatriate population among member countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council, with nearly 70% of the population being foreign. Employers and private citizens are allowed to sponsor foreign workers under the kafala system, and it is very common for citizens to sponsor expats as personal maids and drivers. The country has historically been a popular choice for expats due to its strong currency and stability. The kafala system can be easily abused, however, with citizens or organizations charging foreigners a fee and creating fraudulent applications to allow entry into the country. This often results in expats working in unregulated and unsafe markets. The amendments would establish harsher penalties for visa fraud and on visa traders in an attempt to combat this issue.
The amendments are also in line with Kuwait’s plan to create an economy focused on the private sector. Moving away from its heavy reliance on oil, Kuwait aims to increase and attract private investment, create a stronger services economy, and create an economy that would be attractive to global businesses and corporations.
Content of the Amendments
The new amendments would allow a Kuwaiti woman to obtain residency for her foreign husband and children with the condition that she has not obtained her nationality through naturalization. (Draft law art. 10.) Additionally, divorced or widowed foreign women with Kuwaiti children from a Kuwaiti national would be permitted to obtain a residency permit. (Art. 10.)
Length of Stay and Length of Residency for Foreigners
Foreigners entering Kuwait with the intention of visiting would be permitted to stay for a period not exceeding three months. (Art. 11.) Foreigners who have entered Kuwait intending to visit could renew their visiting visa for up to a year. (Art. 12.) Expatriates working in Kuwait would be able to receive a five-year residency, subject to renewal.
Non-Kuwaiti children of Kuwaiti women and non-Kuwaiti real estate owners would be able to gain residency for a period not exceeding 10 years. Foreign investors who have declared the scope, category, and amount of their investment to the Council of Ministers would be able to gain residency for a period not exceeding 15 years. Foreigners would not be permitted to reside outside Kuwait for a period exceeding six months without gaining permission before that period is over, with the exception of those who have gained their residency by being the children of Kuwaiti women, real estate owners, or investors. (Art. 13.)
The amendments would add a special condition for domestic workers, who would not be permitted to reside outside of Kuwait for a period exceeding four months without obtaining prior permission from the Ministry of the Interior. (Art. 14.)
Trafficking Through Residency and Resulting Crimes
Article 18 of the draft law would prohibit:
- Trafficking foreigners using the residency system.
- Exploiting foreigners or facilitating their entry into the country through the use of an entry visa or a residence permit.
- Renewing an existing visa or permit in exchange for monetary value or service, or the promise of monetary value or service for the benefit of oneself or others, regardless of whether the hiring was done for an existing employment position or a fabricated one.
- Employing a foreigner for oneself or for others without a correct license or against the established labor laws under the private sector labor law, which governs work outside of the public sector, or the Domestic Workers Law, which establishes legal protections for domestic workers.
Moreover, foreigners would be prohibited from working in roles and conditions against their residency requirements, and employers and sponsors of foreigners would be prohibited from employing them in circumstances against the requirements of their residency. (Art. 19.)
Deportation of Foreigners
The minister of the interior would be allowed to decide on the removal of any foreigner during their residency if the resident had no source of income or was in violation of article 19, or if the minister of the interior found that their deportation was beneficial to the general public, public safety, or public morals. (Art. 20.)
Foreigners could be deported from Kuwait through a decision by the minister of the interior in the event that the foreigner did not have valid residency or their residency had expired. Foreigners would be allowed to return to Kuwait if the conditions for entry were met. In addition, the minister of the interior would be permitted to waive all fees held against the foreigner as a result of breaking residency laws, with the condition that the foreigner would leave the country. (Art. 23.)
The sponsor or employer would be responsible for the costs of deporting the foreigner from Kuwait. (Art. 24.) Foreigners who have been deported from Kuwait would not be permitted to return without permission from the minister of the interior. (Art. 26.)
Those in violation of articles 18 and 19 would be subject to imprisonment for up to two years and a fine of 5,000–10,000 Kuwaiti dinars (about US$16,273–$32,545). (Arts. 27–28.)
Those who overstay their visa or residency would be subject to a fine of 2 Kuwaiti dinars (about US$6.50) per day during the first month of their violation and 4 Kuwaiti dinars per day following the first month. (Art. 32.)Prepared by Ali Ebshara, Law Library intern, under the supervision of George Sadek, Foreign Law Specialist