When the coronavirus pandemic is already dealing a heavy blow to the country's overseas job markets, Kuwait has approved a bill that, once passed, may force about two lakh Bangladeshi migrant workers out of the Gulf country.
The bill, submitted by five MPs, calls for an expatriate quota system in Kuwait, one of the major sources of Bangladesh's remittance inflow.
It proposes Bangladeshis must not exceed three percent of Kuwait's total populace, which now stands at about 48 lakh.
Currently, around 3.5 lakh Bangladeshis are employed in different sectors of the oil-rich country. Once the bill is passed and turns into a law, only about 1.5 lakh Bangladeshis will be allowed to stay there.
The bill came after several Kuwaiti MPs said the current ratio of Kuwaiti citizens and foreign workers created "a great imbalance in the country's demography".
Last month, Kuwaiti Prime Minister Sheikh Sabah Al-Khaled Al-Sabah said the Gulf state would like the expat ratio to reduce to 30 percent of the country's populace -- down from 70 percent at present, reported local daily Kuwait Times.
Bangladesh's remittance inflow may take a hit if the bill is passed into law.
Last year, Bangladeshi migrant workers sent more than $1.5 billion in remittance through authorised channels from Kuwait, which was the fourth highest in terms of remittance into Bangladesh, according to the website of Bureau of Manpower, Employment and Training.
Last year, Bangladesh's top three remittance-sending countries were Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and the United States, shows BMET data.
Like elsewhere, Bangladeshis in Kuwait are already in peril due to the pandemic. Many of them have lost their jobs while many are getting low wages amid the economic crisis brought on by the coronavirus.
According to statistics of Probashi Kalyan Desk set by the expatriates' welfare ministry at the Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport, nearly 4,900 migrant workers returned from Kuwait between April 1 and June 17.
Many of them returned under a general amnesty declared by the Kuwait government.
Remittance from expatriates is one of the main pillars of the Bangladesh economy. About one crore Bangladeshi migrants sent home $18.35 billion last year.
Amid a slump in oil prices and the coronavirus pandemic, there has been a spike in "anti-expatriates rhetoric" in Kuwait, as the country's lawmakers and government officials called for reducing the number of foreigners.
On July 5, Kuwait Times reported that the draft law was approved by the National Assembly's legal and legislative committee. The committee determined that the bill goes in line with the country's constitution.
On July 2, the committee decided to refer the bill to another committee concerned that would study all legislation on expatriates in the Gulf country with the aim to cut their numbers, reported the daily.
According to the bill, the largest foreign community in Kuwait, the Indians, must not exceed 15 percent of the Kuwaiti populace. If approved, the law would require some 8 lakh Indians to leave the country
On June 3, Kuwait Prime Minister Sheikh Sabah Khaled Al-Hamad Al-Sabah had said the country was facing a "big challenge" to address discrepancy in the structure of the populace, reported state-run Kuwait News Agency (KUNA).
"The ideal population structure is to have Kuwaitis being 70 percent and non-Kuwaitis 30 percent, so we have a big challenge in the future which is to address the discrepancy in population," said the Kuwait PM.
Contacted, Bangladesh Ambassador to Kuwait SM Abul Kalam on Monday said they did not receive any official word from the Kuwaiti government in this regard.
Citing media reports, he said the draft bill has proposed a quota of three percent of Kuwait's total populace for Bangladeshis.
"Kuwait is home to more or less 3.5 lakh Bangladeshis. Majority of them are involved in low-paid jobs, including driving, cleaning, construction and domestic work and domestic help," he told this newspaper over phone.
The ambassador, however, said some Kuwaiti media outlets have recently raised questions about the proposed law's implementation.
He said many low-paid foreign workers, including Bangladeshis, are involved in different jobs and services, and Kuwaitis are largely dependent on such foreign workers.
"The bill has not been passed yet. It will be circulated [to all] once it turns into a law," added the ambassador.
Talking on the issue, Syed Saiful Haque, co-chair of Bangladesh Civil Society for Migrants, also said, "As the bill is still at the initial stage, there is chance to observe the development and see what finally comes."
"Let's see what proposal they make in the bill," he told this newspaper over the phone.
Saiful, however, said the bill, once passed, would pose a great challenge to Bangladesh's labour market in the Gulf country.