Sponsorship system open to widespread abuse



The Saudi system of sponsorship, or kafala, is still a topic of heated debate as the unjustified extortion of expatriate employees by their sponsors continues.

The sponsorship system supposedly organizes work contracts, salary, visas, vacation and repatriation.

Overseas Filipino Workers at Construction Site (Photo from Al Arabiya News)

However, there have been many instances of sponsors exploiting and mistreating workers under them by various means. A sponsor might take an employee’s passport and iqama (residence permit) or refuse to pay the wage on time. Instead of providing jobs to expatriate workers under them, some sponsors ask them to find work elsewhere and force them to pay a monthly fee. All these are unlawful in Saudi Arabia, but expatriate workers do not complain to the authorities fearing further mistreatment and deportation.

Statistics issued by the Ministry of Labor confirm that about 9 million expatriates currently live and work in the Kingdom. Many of those expatriates are victims of extortion by their sponsors.

The National Society for Human Rights in Saudi Arabia issued a study to organize the rights of sponsors and workers. The study was issued two years ago but its recommendations remain unimplemented, said Mufleh Al-Qahtani, the NSHR chairman. “Changing the word ‘kafala’ to ‘work contract’ has been applied, but that doesn’t change the way sponsors treat their employees,” he said. “We want to create a governmental body or organization that would manage all the conditions and affairs of expatriates. It would cancel the traditional role of the sponsor and ensure all rights are respected.”  read more>>>>>>> 

Sponsors should have a sense of humanity and a fear of God. “Such feelings would make the relationship more safe and fruitful, then the worker would have no reason to escape. I hope officials will revise our system and try to make it more fair” .  – Ibrahim Natto (Former dean of Student Affairs at King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals in Dhahran)


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