Saudi Arabia to ease sponsorship terms for migrant workers in 2021


Saudi Arabia plans to cancel the foreign worker sponsorship system, known as kafala, and replace it with a new form of contract between employers and employees, abolishing a controversial seven-decade-old sponsorship system.

The proposal seeks to boost the private sector – and make it more attractive to foreign talent – under an ambitious plan to diversify its oil-based economy.

“Through this initiative we aim to build an attractive labour market and improve the working environment,” Abdullah bin Nasser Abuthunain, Saudi deputy minister for human resources told reporters on Wednesday.

Under the new scheme to be implemented on March 2021, foreign workers will have the right to change jobs and leave the country without employers’ permission.

The move will help attract high-skilled workers and help create more jobs for Saudi nationals, Sattam Alharbi, deputy minister for development of the work environment, told Reuters in a phone interview, adding that hiring would be based on workers’ efficiency.

Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 reform plan is a package of economic and social policies designed to free the kingdom from reliance on oil exports.

The currently applicable kafala system generally binds a migrant worker to one employer. Rights groups, including Amnesty International, have been calling on Saudi authorities to end that system which leaves workers vulnerable to abuses.

“The term kafala does not officially exist in Saudi labour laws since more than 20 years ago; however, there were many wrong practices of it that helped breach the contractual relation,” Alharbi said.

The new initiative will base the relation between employers and workers on a standard contract that should be certified by the government, and will allow workers to apply directly for services via an e-government portal, instead of a mandatory employers’ approval.

The ministry aims to certify the contracts of all foreign workers by the end of the first quarter of 2021. (Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation)