Saudi Arabia’s labor reforms to ‘kafala’ sponsorship system come into effect

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Saudi Arabia’s promised reforms to improve on its “kafala” sponsorship system announced last November officially comes into effect on Sunday, which will see expatriate workers enjoy job mobility and freedom to enter and exit the Kingdom without the need for an employer’s permission.

Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Human Resources and Social Development last November announced it would implement starting March 2021 new conditions under which expatriate workers in the Kingdom can benefit from with the aim of improving the kafala sponsorship system in the Kingdom.

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The new conditions 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. It also provides an exit and return service, which allows a migrant worker to travel outside Saudi Arabia, upon submitting the application, with an online notification to the employer without the need to seek prior permission.

A ‘final exit’ stipulation will also enable 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.

The reformed system will also address exceptional cases where workers were not provided with a work contract or who did not receive their salaries.

The kafala system in Saudi Arabia previously tied 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.

Foreign workers work at a construction site, following the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, May 7, 2020. (Reuters)
Foreign workers work at a construction site, following the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, May 7, 2020. (Reuters)

Reports of Saudi Arabia abolishing its sponsorship system were first raised earlier last year in February Saudi Gazette reported through unnamed sources.

Last October, Saudi Arabian Maaal newspaper reported using unnamed sources that Saudi Arabia was set to announce the replacement of the foreign worker sponsorship system, known as kafala, and that it would be replaced with a form of reformed system of contracts between employers and employees.

Read more:

Saudi Arabia announces conditions for new labor reforms set to improve kafala system

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

Saudi ministry clarifies after report on pending decision to abolish kafala system

Saudi Arabia set to abolish sponsorship system soon: Report

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