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Saudi Kafala system is cancelled, but is more needed?

The Saudi Kafala system, which has been enforced in Saudi for the past 70 years or so, is now scrapped. Why now and what's left to be done?

Scrapping the kafala will help attract high-skilled workers and create more jobs for Saudi nationals Migrant workers can switch jobs upon the expiry of their work contract As many as 10 million migrant workers are expected to benefit from labor reform changes

The Saudi Kafala system, which has been enforced in Saudi for the past 70 years or so, ties workers to their employers, or sponsors, who are responsible for the employees’ visa and legal status.

But as Saudi seeks to boost its private sector and diversify from an oil-dependent economy, it scrapped the Kafala system last Sunday.

The move to scrap the kafala will help attract high-skilled workers and create more jobs for Saudi nationals, Sattam Alharbi, deputy minister for development of the work environment, told Reuters.

In November 2020, Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Human Resources and Social Development agreed to a labor reform initiative to smoothen contractual relations between a Saudi employer and a foreign worker. 

Under the kingdom’s revised system, migrant workers can switch jobs upon the expiry of their work contract.

Workers will also be able to transfer jobs during the validity of their contract provided they notify their employers within a set timeframe.

Workers will also be exempt from “exit authorization”, allowing them to travel indefinitely without the permission of their employers.
Read: Can the Saudi G-20 be the final nail in the coffin for kingdom’s kafala system?

Read: Best places to work in Saudi, UAE, and Egypt in 2020 revealed

Filipinos applaud the move

The abolition of the Kafala system in Saudi Arabia took effect Sunday, March 14, 2021. 

In a statement, Migrante International, an alliance of Filipino migrant workers explained that the development would “allow expatriate Filipino and other foreign workers in Saudi to secure exit and re-entry visas, receive the last passport exit stamp and get a job in the Middle East country without the approval of a Saudi citizen sponsor.”

Migrant workers, local and international NGOs, and the United Nations have condemned the policy, which is applied in most GCC countries and elsewhere in the Middle East, because the system tended to exploit workers. 

The new initiative aims to make the Saudi labor market more attractive, the Saudi deputy minister for human resources said, by granting foreign workers the right to change jobs and leave the country without employers’ permission.

Migrante-KSA is calling for the application of this policy on the millions of domestic workers in the KSA.

More reforms to the system

A dramatic overhaul will allow expat workers to apply directly for government services, with their employment contracts documented digitally.

As many as 10 million migrant workers are expected to benefit from changes under the Kingdom’s Labor Reform Initiative (LRI), intended to foster “a competitive and fair working environment.” 

The initiative will help foreign workers acquire residency status that is not tied to a specific employer and will allow job mobility as well as exit and re-entry visas while protecting the rights of both employee and employer.

Two government portals, Absher and Qiwa, have been designated for the reform procedures.

Human Rights Watch on domestic workers

According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), some 3.7 million domestic workers are likely to be excluded from the labor law and labor reform changes. 

It said many domestic laborers face long working hours without a day off, forced confinement, and physical abuse.