Mission & Name
US Foreign Policy (Dr. El-Najjar's Articles)
The System of Sponsorship, Kafala, Must End
for its Exploitation of Foreign Workers in the Arabian Gulf States
By Khaled Almaeena
October 6, 2015
of sponsorship of foreign workers in the Arabian Gulf states, known as
kafala, is nothing but avoidance of granting them immigrant statuses
(permanent residence and citizenship). It aims at keeping them foreigners
for ever, even if they're born in these states and spend all their life
It's exploitation of immigrants and violation of their basic
|Indian workers in Abu Dhabi,
UAE, who can never get immigrant status, like all foreigners there
The ‘kafala’ system must go
OVER the past few years there have been growing criticism over the
treatment of foreign workers in the Gulf States. Accusations were hurled by
International Labour Organization (ILO) and human rights activists, which
for years were ignored.
However, in the past few years Gulf States
have been taking steps to alleviate the miserable conditions of the workers.
There have been some steps taken but by and large the problem persisted
because the foreign worker, whether labors or white-collared office workers,
remained under the total mercy of the sponsors or “Kafeels”.
written several articles over the past few years outlining the situation and
even writing to concerned officials but to no avail.
Only my last
letter to the new Saudi minister of labor evoked a quick response and action
and I must thank the minister and his staff who viewed the humanitarian case
of a doctor who could not travel for 19 months due to a bureaucratic error.
The problem lies not in the laws but in implementation. Also workers,
who mainly are non-Arabic speakers, are rarely given a sympathetic hearing
and in most cases victimized as the sponsors go and report them as runaways
— registering “huroob” cases against them.
Apart from the Kingdom
streamlining and reforming its labor laws, Qatar and the United Arab
Emirates are also in the process of reforming their sponsorship laws.
The UAE is introducing labor reforms that aim to tighten oversight of
employment agreements for the millions of migrant workers and they will take
effect on Jan. 1. 2016.
They focus on improving transparency of job
terms and employment contracts, spell out how contracts can be broken and
could make it easier for workers to switch employers.
Minister of Labor Saqr Ghobash has taken the GCC lead by initiating reforms
that will better protect foreign workers. Now workers can change employers
and also be saved from substitution “contract”, which forces them to sign
another document on arrival.
“These rules will take the labor market
to a new stage based on a strong and balanced relationship between all
parties and on agreement and transparency in contracting to guarantee the
rights of all parties,” Ghobash was reported as saying while announcing the
date of implementation.
Long-awaited changes to Qatar’s kafala
sponsorship system have been green-lighted by the Cabinet, bringing reforms
one step closer to becoming enshrined in the law.
However, the new
rules still require final approval from the Qatari Emir and are unlikely to
come into force until late 2016 at the earliest.
The large influx of
workers to the GCC States, especially the Kingdom, created a big “visa
market” and many nationals and recruitment agencies abroad made millions of
Today in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia too, the Ministry of
Labor has clamped down on heartless “visa traders” and has pushed for
reforms. A media campaign should be conducted and people, both the workers
and the employees, should be made aware of their rights and obligations.
Contracts should be lodged with the Ministry of Labor rather than with
employers. And the Kafala system must go.
— The writer is
Editor-at-Large. He can be reached at
and followed on Twitter: @KhaledAlmaeena
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