Kuwait Community

16 August 2023

Part 3: From Centuries Ago to Present and Beyond: Indians’ Contribution to Kuwait’s Journey of Prosperity

By Dev Shah

The Indian community in Kuwait has experienced dynamic growth and transformation in the 21st century, playing an integral role in shaping the country’s social, economic, and cultural landscape. As one of the largest expatriate groups in Kuwait, Indians have established themselves as a vibrant and diverse community, contributing significantly to the host nation while maintaining strong ties to their Indian heritage. As seen in the previous blogs, this last section of the three-part blog series looks into the Indian community in Kuwait post the oil discovery and the contributions made by them to the economic development of Kuwait. 

Before we dwell on the stories of the 21st century, it is important to highlight an activity a decade ago that may have forever changed the landscape of immigration to Kuwait due to fear and instability. On August 2, 1990, Iraqi forces moved into Kuwait, trying to claim the territory. While the various warnings from Iraq to claim Kuwait as its own were recorded, the invasion came as a surprise to many, including the vast majority of the Indian community present in Kuwait. There were approximately 176,000 Indians who registered themselves with the Indian embassy in Kuwait and wished to be evacuated from the country . From August 13 to October 11, 1990, the mission carried all Indians wishing to move out along with a few Pakistanis. Mentioning about Pakistanis being evacuated is important in context to the ties between India and Pakistan then and how various diverse groups resided in Kuwait. However, there were close to 7,000 Indians who wished to remain in the country along with half a million Kuwaitis to safeguard and protect the things they built, that is, their livelihood and property. The experiences of those 7000 Indians along with the Indians who were the last to leave the country, saw their own sisters and females being harassed by Iraqi soldiers along with members of the community missing who went out to find food and other required items and their houses looted. However, when Kuwait liberalized, the priority of the Indian government was to ensure the safe return of hundreds of thousands who left their livelihood behind, along with having a share in rebuilding the country from the damage of the invasion. This experience should result in less immigration to Kuwait as it just emerged from an armed conflict. On the contrary, the number of individuals who returned to Kuwait after the liberation was more than the number of individuals who left the country.

Since 1992, the participation of Indian migrant workers in Kuwait has been instrumental in their economic growth. As per the latest data from the Ministry of External Affairs of India in 2019, there are over one million Indians in Kuwait, and the Indian community keeps growing at a rate of 5% to 6% per annum. There are close to 750,000 Indian males out of the total population that are deployed in industries heavily dominated by men. The majority of Indians, ~523,000, work in construction, engineering, medicine, information technology, etc. There are about ~116,000 dependents, i.e. spouses and children. Out of the total population, there are about 60,000 Indian students studying at various schools. There is no post-secondary education available for Indian students in Kuwait. It is important to note that before oil discovery majority of the Indian migrant workers worked as domestic workers, and one would hope that the landscape would change with rapid economic development. However, there were close to ~327,000 who worked as domestic workers, i.e. drivers, gardeners, cleaners, child care workers, cooks, and housemaids. Due to the limitations of the Kafala system, as described in our blogs earlier, they are not allowed to bring their dependents. Lastly, there are 28,000 Indians that are working for the Kuwaiti government in various capacities at the National Oil Company, where a few of them are scientists. 

With such a massive Indian population in Kuwait, discussing the bilateral relationship between India and Kuwait is essential. The two countries enjoy what the External Affairs Ministry of India describes as “warm and friendly, rooted in history and sustained people-to-people contact.” In 2021, the two countries celebrated their 60th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries, and the Indian Rupee being a legal tender until 1961 speaks for itself. India has been one of Kuwait’s top ten trading partners, and the bilateral trade in 2021-22 stood at US$ 12.24 billion. 

In conclusion, the Indian expatriate population in Kuwait has expanded considerably, driven by economic opportunities, education, and familial connections. According to the latest available data, Indians constitute a significant portion of Kuwait’s population, making up around 24.1% of the total labour force, with more than 476,000 males and females actively engaged in various sectors, not including domestic workers, making them the largest expatriate community in Kuwait. This statistic underscores the substantial presence and contributions of the Indian community to Kuwait’s development.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Canada Kuwait Aid Network.”

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