Saudi Arabia Announces Major Reforms of Kafala System

Is this the beginning of the end?


As part of Vision 2030, Saudi Arabia has seen pivotal changes over recent years. The Kingdom opened its borders to international tourists, lifted the ban on women driving, and even held a rave in the middle of the desert. Its latest move? Major reforms to its sponsorship system, often called the Kafala system. 

The move was announced on Wednesday by the Kingdom’s Ministry of Human Resources and Social Development (MHRSD). The changes are part of a new Labour Reform Initiative that seeks to improve the contractual conditions for foreign workers in the country.

Under the latest reform, which will take effect in March 2021, migrant workers can leave, re-enter and obtain exit visas from Saudi Arabia without their employer’s consent. 10 million foreign labourers will benefit from this initiative according to Deputy Minister Abdullah bin Nasser Abuthnain.

“We have launched a Labour Reform Initiative, one of the initiatives of the National Transformation Program, through which we seek to develop and improve the labour market environment and raise its competitiveness to enable human resources in accordance with the Kingdom’s Vision 2030,” tweeted MHRSD’s Minister Ahmed Sulaiman Al-Rajhi.

The Kafala sponsorship system has long been criticized by human rights organizations, as it lifts control from migrant labourers and denies them the right to leave their employer without losing their immigration status. Many labourers have also reported abusive employers, excessive working hours with no wages, or even having their passports confiscated. 

And while this isn’t a full abolition of the kafala system, as migrant workers still need the sponsorship of an employer to come to the country, the change is a sign of a better future for domestic workers in the region.

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