The sponsorship system in Saudi Arabia is set to be abolished soon, according to a report from the Saudi Gazette that quotes unnamed sources.
The current system, also known as the kafala system, ties workers to their employers, or sponsors, who are responsible for the employees’ visa and legal status. The new law would limit the relationship between employers and expatriate workers under the system, who primarily work in construction and domestic work.
The move would be the latest in a series of economic reforms as the country turns away from dependence on oil revenues under the Kingdom’s Vision 2030. The abolition of the sponsorship system would give expatriate workers freedom to secure exit and entry visas, receive the final passport exit stamp without a sponsor, and gain employment without approval from a sponsor.
Expatriate workers who were once under the kafala system will also have freedom of movement if the system is abolished.
The sponsorship system has been in place in Saudi Arabia for decades. Under the system, a worker is obligated to work for his sponsor, and they cannot work for another employer unless the sponsorship is transferred through formal, written channels.
Because of the rigidity of the system, it has often been criticized.
“One of the disadvantages of the sponsorship system is that it opened the way for flourishing black market for visa trade,” the Saudi Gazette reported.
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. Oman, Bahrain, and Qatar have previously taken small steps to repeal parts of the system.
Outside the Arabian Gulf, Jordan and Lebanon have similar systems for domestic workers.