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Saudi begins changes to kafala sponsorship system

The new changes apply to all expatriate workers in the private sector.

Saudi Arabia yesterday began the implementation of the new kafala "sponsorship" system, which aims to improve the contractual relationship between local employers and foreign workers.

The new system allows foreign employees to start new jobs, when their existing contracts come to an end, without the need for their employers' permission; provided that they notify their employers 90 days prior to their departure. Workers will also be able to leave the country "indefinitely" without their employers' permission.

The new changes apply to all expatriate workers in the private sector.

The sponsorship system has been in place in Saudi Arabia for decades. Under the system, a worker is forced to work for his/her sponsor and cannot work for another employer unless the sponsorship is transferred through formal channels.

Last November, the Saudi Ministry of Human Resources and Social Development announced that it would abolish the kafala "sponsorship" system during the first half of 2021.

The decision was hailed by human rights activists who had said the system left workers vulnerable to abuse and exploitation.

The Saudi private sector employed 8.02 million people by the end of 2020, nearly 6.27 million of them were foreigners.

According to a previous statement by the Saudi Ministry of Labour, the initiative enhances the competitiveness of the kingdom's labour market and attracts a competent labour force.

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