over there Reports This week, it is reported that the Saudi authorities are seeking to abolish the notorious sponsorship system in 2021. Under this system, the legal status of nearly 10 million migrant workers is tied to their employer – which facilitates abuse and exploitation, including forced labor, human trafficking, and conditions that resemble circumstances. Slavery.
The Gulf states are increasingly keen to insist that they have abolished this system. But most of them have actually tampered with the reforms, and none has abolished the system entirely. Saudi Arabia has one of the most restrictive bail systems in the region, as it retains all elements of abuse.
The measure of Saudi Arabia’s de facto abolition of the sponsorship system hinges on ending five main elements that give employers control over the lives of migrant workers:
- Obliging the expatriate worker to have an employer who will be his sponsor to enter the country.
- The power employers have to secure and renew residency and work permits for migrant workers – and their ability to revoke these permits at any time.
- The requirement for workers to obtain the consent of their employers to leave or change their jobs.
- The crime of “absconding”, according to which employers can report the disappearance of the worker, which means that the worker becomes automatically without documents, and he can be arrested, imprisoned, and deported.
- The requirement for expatriates to obtain the consent of the employer to leave the country in the form of an exit permit.
Human Rights Watch documented how elements of the sponsorship system facilitate abuse and exploitation. Workers have limited powers to complain about or flee abuse when the employer controls their entry and exit from the country, their residency, and their ability to change jobs. Many employers take advantage of this control by taking workers’ passports, forcing them to work long hours, and denying them wages. Migrant domestic workers in particular may be locked up in their employers’ homes, and they may be exposed to physical and sexual abuse. The kafala system has also resulted in hundreds of thousands of workers without official documents, as employers can force people to reach this status, and workers who flee abuse can become undocumented.
If Saudi Arabia wants to abolish the sponsorship system, it must address each of these elements, and ensure that all migrant workers are able to enter, reside in, or leave the country without being at the mercy of the individual employer or company. Saudi Arabia’s wealth and economy have been built on the back of millions of migrant workers, and the time has come for a radical change to give them the legal protections and guarantees of rights they deserve.