Saudi Arabia to remove key restrictions on migrant laborers

Saudi Arabia on Wednesday announced reforms that will abolish some key restrictions tying millions of low-paid and vulnerable migrant workers to their employers.

The Ministry of Human Resource and Social Development said the reforms will allow foreign workers the right to change jobs by transferring their sponsorship from one employer to another, leave and re-enter the country and secure final exit visas without the consent of their employer, which had long been required.

Deputy Minister Abdullah bin Nasser Abuthnain said the new so-called “Labor Relation Initiative” is slated to come into effect in March 2021, affecting potentially around a third of Saudi Arabia’s total population, or approximately 10 million foreign workers in the kingdom.

Human Rights Watch researcher Rothna Begum said the information provided thus far shows Saudi authorities are removing some elements of the “kafala“ sponsorship system in place across multiple Gulf Arab states that ties foreign workers’ legal status to their employer.

Qatar, which is preparing to host the next FIFA World Cup in 2022, has recently introduced similar changes to its labor laws.

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