Kafala System Ends, OFWs Celebrate and Continue the Fight Against Slavery

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has announced that it will end its notorious sponsorship or “kafala” system on March 14. Migrante-Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, together with all OFWs in the country are glad and jubilant and are celebrating over this historic action.

The move will allow expatriate Filipino and other foreign workers in KSA to secure exit and re-entry visas, receive the last passport exit stamp and get a job in the Middle East country without the approval of a Saudi citizen sponsor.

The announcement will do away with the need for a sponsor or kafeel’s approval to transfer sponsorship, for a migrant worker to undergo sponsorship in order to receive exit and re-entry visas, and for migrants to become runaways or “huroob” from their kafeels.

The KSA is undertaking this important measure in order to strengthen its private sector and make the latter more attractive to foreign talents, as it seeks to diversify its internal economy which has for a long time been dependent on oil.

Migrante-KSA lauds Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman who, in his Vision 2030, is undertaking economic reforms in the country and has boldly decided to let go of the kafala system.

The kafala system has been in existence and has been enforced in KSA for seven decades. For many decades now, many migrant workers, local and international NGOs, and even the United Nations have criticized it and have called for its reform.

Many have seen the kafala system as extremely repressive and therefore exploitative towards migrant workers. It is a violation of migrant workers’ labor and human rights, and paves the way for other such violations. Many have condemned the kafala as a policy akin to slavery, which severely controls and limits migrant workers’ mobility and entry into and exit from the KSA,as it mandates kafeels’ control over migrant workers’ passports.

Even as we celebrate this historic action, Migrante-KSA is calling for the application of this policy on the more than three million domestic workers in the KSA. Most of these workers are foreigners who come from poor countries like the Philippines and are subjected to the worst abuses.
We urge the KSA to ratify and abide by the International Labor Organization Convention 189, which elaborates on, and enshrines, the various rights of domestic workers. We support the call of the International Migrants’ Alliance for government’s ratification and implementation of this convention.

Migrante-KSA is also calling on the Philippine government to ensure, through coordination with its counterpart, the minimum implementation of the unified contract. The governments of sending countries should take on the responsibility of protecting their migrant workers in KSA and elsewhere.
We also warn against the possible negative effects of this move for migrant workers. Removing the kafala system may mean easier and more swift termination and deportation of migrant workers in order to prevent them from filing labor grievances.

The abolition of the kafala system is a major positive development. It is a step in the right direction in upholding migrant workers’ labor and human rights, and we OFWs will continue to push for reforms in that direction.###