Dubai blazed a trail in the Middle East – it showed other states and territories how diversification away from fiscal dependency on oil could be hugely successful and fun, glamorous, exciting and decadent all at the same time.  Okay, so Dubai over did things a little and is now paying the price in a recessionary fashion…but it has still paved the way for other emirates, countries and states to follow.

One state that has quietly witnessed all that Dubai has achieved has been Kuwait, and now certain vociferous members of the government and unions are pushing for fundamental changes to immigration policies to attract the best foreign sourced workers to move to live and work in Kuwait.

So, if you’re looking for the affluent way of life so commonly associated with the Middle East, you want a low or no tax lifestyle in a country where your skills will be hugely valued, and you want to get in at ground floor level and help build up a sustainable economy, forget working in Dubai, go to Kuwait instead!

Following Kuwait’s ‘liberation’ from Iraq and the damage that was done to the nation’s infrastructure during the days of intensive fighting, billions of dollars of investment have now ensured that the oil economy is back up and running, and that much of the physical damage to the country has been repaired.  However, those in charge are acutely aware that despite their oil rich status now, Kuwait does need to think about diversification.

One voice that’s making itself heard is that of the Secretary General for Kuwait Labor Unions, Abdulrahman Yousuf.  He wants the entire visa sponsorship scheme scrapped, and in its place he wants expatriate workers to be able to effective sponsor themselves.  This idea seemed to have weight when it was announced that it would come into effect this month…however, changes are conspicuous by their absence so far.

Another idea that has been widely discussed is offering citizenship to high level expatriate employees and their families in a bid to attract the best to work in Kuwait.  Again, the idea is only at the discussion stage – and as you can imagine, there are voices for and against such a scheme.

Dr Sami Alfaraj, president of Kuwait’s Centre for Strategic Studies who also advises both the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Office of the Prime Minister, is very much in favour of the scheme.  He has commented on the fact that Dubai is currently attracting the best expatriate workers in the region, and so if Kuwait wants to directly compete, it needs to offer something of appeal to the best expats seeking work abroad in order to retain their commitment.

At the moment expats are very much wanted and needed in Kuwait, the general attitude at senior governmental level is that these workers are welcome and needed.  This is in contrast to Dubai where there’s definitely a growing feeling of dissatisfaction with the number and influence of expats living in the emirate.

However, before we all rush off and look for jobs in Kuwait, it’s worth noting that whilst the appetite for positive change is in place, it’s a state still crippled by long-standing political rows which render the voices of change almost impotent.

In our opinion it’s worth keeping a close eye on Kuwait as a centre for expatriate employment however, it’s a location with appetite and wealth for diversification, one which offers expats and their families a decent and currently improving way of life.  There is long-term development needed, which allows for long-term career progression potential.  Salaries in many industries are handsome, the tax advantages are obvious, and working conditions are improving.

However, expats really need to wait and see whether the promises of change that will benefit them in terms of their residency or citizenship status come to pass.  Kuwait really needs to put policies in place of promises, and reforms in place of posturing – only then will it be able to attract expats away from the likes of Dubai.

The good news is that Kuwait knows what it needs to do if it wants to have a bright and diversified economic future – and it can learn from the mistakes already made in Dubai…but let’s wait and see if it follows through on its many positive promises.