Chandan Kumar Mandal
Labour migration to Kuwait, which has been halted for nearly a year now due to the Covid-19 pandemic, remains uncertain with the local government there recently suspending entry to foreign nationals due to the surge in coronavirus cases.
The two-week travel restriction for non-citizens, which came to force on February 7, was extended on Saturday until further notice. The Kuwaiti authorities were earlier gearing up to allow foreigners to enter the country from Sunday (February 21), raising hopes that the country was finally going to allow migrant workers.
“Recruiting agencies were hoping that Nepalis citizens will be allowed to enter Kuwait with the relaxation of travel restriction. Now that Kuwait has extended the restriction, we don’t know when the country will open.”
“Kuwait and Malaysia are among the countries where Nepali workers have not been able to go since the pandemic struck,” added Shrestha.
The Gulf state had first suspended all international flights to and from Kuwait International Airport (KIA) on March 13 last year. Later, when the country eased the Covid-19 related travel restrictions and gradually resumed its passenger flights in phases from August, but Nepali nationals were still prohibited from entering the country.
The Gulf state had lifted the travel ban, except for the citizens of Nepal, India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Iran and the Philippines. Kuwait later extended the travel ban list to 35 countries that included Nepal.
The prolonged travel ban meant Nepali citizens could not go to Kuwait, which hosts nearly 70,000 Nepali workers. Besides, those workers who were in Nepal on job break and had got stuck due to the pandemic and the lockdown also could not return to their work.
“Nepali workers coming to Kuwait have completely stopped since March. Not only new migrants but those who had gone to Nepal for job break have not been able to return,” said an official with the Nepal Embassy in Kuwait. “The pandemic disrupted the business in the country and its effect has been felt on Nepali workers as well.”
Kuwait is among the top-five labour destinations for Nepalis.
“Although the labour market is small in Kuwait, the country has good perks and facilities for Nepali workers. It is one of the most-preferred labour destination countries in the Persian Gulf,” said Shrestha. “Most of the jobs are in the hospitality and construction sector.”
Even in the last fiscal year when labour migration was halted due to the Covid-19 pandemic, 16,862 Nepalis had reached Kuwait, according to government data.
With the latest travel restriction, the Kuwaiti government has added 33 new countries to the list of high-risk countries, making the total countries 68. Mostly empty flights have been landing at Kuwaiti airport these days.
Published on: 24 February 2021 | The Kathmandu Post