Saudi Arabia’s expatriate workers will be able to have job mobility and the freedom to enter and exit the Kingdom without the need for an employer’s permission, as the country’s improved reforms on its “kafala” sponsorship system officially came into effect on Sunday.
The kafala system previously tied workers to their employers, or sponsors, who are responsible for the employees’ visa and legal status.
Last November, the country’s Ministry of Human Resources and Social Development announced it would implement new conditions for expatriate workers in the Kingdom starting March 2021, with the goal of improving the kafala sponsorship system.
The new conditions in Saudi Arabia’s kafala system include stipulations that will allow migrant workers to transfer to other jobs upon the expiry of their work contract without the need for their former employer’s approval.
The newly reformed laws pertaining to foreign labor workers also include transition mechanisms during the validity of the contract, provided that the notice period and the specified controls are adhered to.
Migrant workers will be able to travel outside Saudi Arabia, upon submitting an application, with an online notification to the employer without the need to seek prior permission.
A ‘final exit’ stipulation will also allow a migrant worker to leave immediately after the end of their contract, with an online notification sent to an employer without requiring his or her consent.
Changes to make Saudi labor market more attractive
Saudi Arabia’s deputy minister for human resources in November said the changes to the system aim to make the Saudi labor market more attractive.
“Through this initiative we aim to build an attractive labor market and improve the working environment through three main services.. available to all foreign workers in the private sector,” Abdullah bin Nasser Abuthunain told reporters.
Last February, a report from the Saudi Gazette said that the kafala system in the Kingdom was set to be abolished.
The Kingdom’s Ministry of Human Resources and Social Development responded to these reports, saying in October 2020 that it is working on “many initiatives” to develop the labor market and that decisions will be announced when they are ready.
“In reference to what has been circulated about changes in the framework of the labor contractual relationship in the Kingdom, the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Development clarifies that it is working on many initiatives to organize and develop the labor market, and it will be announced as soon as it is ready,” the ministry said in a statement on its Twitter account.
Kafala systems emerged in the 1950s when countries in the Arabian Gulf began hiring migrant workers at a rapid pace to accelerate development following the discovery of oil. Currently, it is also practiced in Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, and the UAE.