The expatriate workforce in Kuwait decreased last year for the first time since the Iraqi invasion of 1990, official figures showed today. The number of foreign workers dropped to 1.75 million at the end of 2008 from 1.77 million a year earlier, a decline of 0.85 per cent, as the global economic slowdown and a sharp fall in world crude prices bit, the figures showed. Overall employment, including Kuwaiti citizens, also posted its first fall since 1990, inching down 0.19 per cent to 2.088 million.
The fall in the foreign workforce saw the emirate's expatriate population record its lowest increase since the 1991 Gulf war in which a US-led coalition expelled Iraqi forces, rising just 0.4 per cent to 2.35 million. Expatriates have a higher birth rate than Kuwaiti citizens, contributing to the differing workforce and population figures. The small rise in expat numbers contrasted markedly with the large increases of previous years. The foreign population rose 8.5 per cent in 2007 and more than 11 per cent in 2004.
Expatriates still make up 68.4 per cent of the total population, however, slightly down from the 69 per cent figure for 2007, the statistics posted on the Public Authority for Civil Information website showed. The economic slowdown, which has prompted a raft of Kuwaiti firms to lay off foreign workers, saw the proportion of citizens in the workforce rise 3.7 per cent to 336,000 last year, compared with 324,000 at the end of 2007.
About 263,000 of them, or almost 78 per cent, were employed in the public sector. They made up just four per cent of the 1.71 million private sector workforce. Kuwaiti citizens number 1.087 million, 31.6 per cent of the Gulf state's total population. Asians, who number 1.33 million, make up the largest part of the expatriate population. There are also about 971,000 Arabs and 35,000 Europeans, Americans and Australians.