Saudi Arabia to ease foreign workers’ restrictions under kafala system in March 2021

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Saudi Arabia on Wednesday announced new plans to ease foreign workers’ contractual restrictions, improving a sponsorship system known as kafala.

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The plans, to take effect in March 2021, aim to make the Saudi labor market more attractive, the deputy minister for human resources said, by granting foreign workers the right to change jobs and leave the country without employers’ permission.

“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.

Saudi Arabia, which chairs the Group of 20 major economies (G20) this year, is seeking to boost its private sector, part of a plan to diversify its economy.

The move will help attract high-skilled workers and help achieve Vision 2030 objectives, Abuthunain added.

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.

The new initiative will base the relation between employers and workers on a 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.

Last week, Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Human Resources and Social Development said it is working on “many initiatives” to develop the labor market and that decisions will be announced when they are ready, following a report that the Kingdom was working to abolish the Kafala system.

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