Debt, Peonage and Dependency in the kafalah System

Hadrami Migratory Experience in Kuwait

in Volume 9 (2014): Issue 1 (Mar 2014)

Studies of immigrants in Kuwait focus on structural aspects overlooking sociohistorical elements and meso-level relationships that develop through migration. This ethnography shows that the immigrant's perspective and the history of the relationship between the receiving society and the immigrant community are both essential for establishing broader and thicker analyses of reality. It argues that because Hadramis and Kuwaiti sponsors were historically linked in personal exchanges originating in the Kuwaiti domestic realm, the meaning and practices of sponsorship comprise a unique migratory and work experience. Normally the immigrant–sponsor relationship is conveyed in terms of pseudokinship, yet references to moral debts and dependency reveal forms of exploitation and dominance. Hadrami–Kuwaiti relationships do not produce significant economic outcomes for the sponsor. Rather, Hadramis are symbolically valued within local hierarchies. This symbolic value has sustained a solid Hadrami presence in Kuwait and secured an income for retiring immigrants at home.