| 9 December 2023, Saturday |

Kuwait suspends new visas for Philippines workers in rights row

Kuwait has suspended a permanent halt to all new visas for citizens of the Philippines, the interior ministry said this week, in an escalation of a dispute over worker and employer rights between the oil-rich Gulf state and Manila.

Approximately 6% of Kuwait’s 4.7 million people are citizens of the Philippines, according to government statistics. 32% are Kuwaitis.

The visa suspension comes after the Philippines in February stopped the first-time deployment of domestic workers to Kuwait after the body of domestic worker Jullebee Ranara was found in the Kuwaiti desert in January.

Large numbers of Philippine citizens work overseas, with around 10% of its gross domestic product coming from remittances. Many work in oil-rich Gulf states like Kuwait as low-paid domestic workers, where visa systems tie a worker to one employer and make migrant workers vulnerable to abuse – including employers confiscating their passports.

The interior ministry on Wednesday said the Philippines had violated a bilateral labour agreement. The two countries signed an agreement in 2018 following a previous row over worker protections in the wake of several domestic worker deaths.

Listed violations include housing workers in shelters, searching for runaways without involving state institutions, communicating with Kuwaiti citizens without permission from authorities and pressuring Kuwaiti employers to add clauses to employment contracts.

A week ago the Philippines Department of Foreign Affairs said all actions taken by the Philippines Embassy and government are “to ensure the safety and welfare of our own nationals”.

“Providing protection to a country’s citizens abroad is a well-established duty of consular offices under international law and conventions,” the statement said.

The Philippine embassy in Kuwait did not respond to a request for comment.

  • Reuters