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Saudi Arabia Reforms Kafala Labor System

Foreign workers in Saudi Arabia will now be able to freely enter and exit the country and switch jobs without their employers’ permission under a reform of the country’s Kafala labor sponsorship system. The reforms went into effect on Sunday.

Previously, laborers were tied to a single employer, who had sole control over his or her work status. This made it easier for employers to abuse their employees, including by making them work extra-long hours or withholding pay.

Saudi Arabia’s government announced in November that it was working to reform the kafala system. Under the reforms, workers will be able to switch employers at the end of their contracts without the need for the employer’s permission, and will be able to travel outside of the country by sending the employer an online notification, but no need to ask for permission.

Kafala also is practiced in Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates.