How about amnesty?

We've all heard about the scary number of expats living illegally in Kuwait; according to some estimates, up to half a million expats are registered with 'paper' companies here. The problem, of course, is huge, and the efforts the government is making to tackle the issue are appreciated, because having half a million unemployed and illegal residents in any country can be a real threat to the security of that place. Needless to say, Kuwait with its relatively small population, should be especially concerned
about this crisis.

The Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor is identifying the fraudulent companies and categorizing them according to the level of fraud perpetrated. The penalties imposed are then sorted into codes; depending on the code placed upon the company in the system, the company will not be able to perform any legal paperwork before settling the problem. The workers registered with the company will also be prohibited from transferring their residency to another employer, and if they do decide to leave the country,
they will be banned from returning for 10 years.

All of this could have been good, if it weren't for the human factor, which seems to be absent from the picture. We are talking here about half a million people, who probably sold all of their "fortune" back home, whether those were in the form land, a store or even a cow, to pay to a 'visa trader' in order to come to Kuwait and work. It's almost common knowledge that if these people weren't desperate to find a job, they wouldn't have left their home countries in the first place to come and work in Kuwait,
whether legally or illegally.

I'm not saying that these people are innocent; I'm just trying to understand their own inner world, now that they cannot transfer their residency to another employer or travel back home and wait for another sponsor to invite them back. They are kind of 'stuck' in the middle. If they go back, then everything they've managed to achieve in Kuwait will be lost, since they won't be able to return for a whole decade. Back home on the other hand, they have nothing and probably can't even go back to the already ba
d situation they used to be in before coming to Kuwait for the first time.

These people made a mistake, but it's not as big as the mistake of visa traders, or those who facilitated their job in the ministry. If we are to actually 'catch' all these people, in spite of how difficult it, and deport them from Kuwait for good, we will still not get rid of this problem because the visa traders will 'import' other people since the main reason for the problem will still be here.

Visa traders, in my view, are like drug dealers. They hunt their victims living in the most desperate situations and exploit their misery for profit – but punishing drug addicts while neglecting the drug dealers would not stop the addiction problem, but would only be unfair. If we really want to solve the problem of visa traders, we need to take steps against the visa traders, not only the visa buyers.

The situation of the visa buyers, on the other hand, deserves to be looked at with a little bit more empathy; at the end of the day, it is a humanitarian problem.

In Kuwait we are used to seeing gestures of compassion from the Kuwaiti authorities. Amnesty has been given to people with expired residencies before, and it is a good tool indeed, because having a desperate expat hiding in your country is much worse than having a former illegal expat trying to get a legal visa to return to Kuwait.

Offering amnesty would help to reduce the number of people living illegally here, not to mention improve Kuwait's image internationally. A country that gives amnesty to half a million illegal residents, and allows them to depart the country without penalties, sounds much better than a country with 500,000 people on its 'wanted' list.

© Kuwait Times 2009

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