In early November 2020, the Saudi Arabian Ministry of Human Resources and Social Development introduced a Labor Reform Initiative (LRI). This reform aimed to improve the mobility of foreign workers within Saudi Arabia. Before the reforms were implemented, foreign workers needed their employers’ consentbefore switching jobs, opening up personal bank accounts, and traveling outside the country.
The LRI will allow millions of migrant workers to gain employment mobility and improve the contract-based relationship between migrant workers and employers.
Changes to the Labor Laws of KSA
The LRI was introduced to dismantle the existing Kafala system and replace it by bringing changes to the current immigration laws and labor code.
The Ministry of Human Resources and Social Development enacted reforms to the current sponsorship system under Resolution No. 51848/1442. This resolution was drafted to improve mobility and extend the rights of migrant employees. The LRI allows foreign workers to leave or switch their jobs once their employment contracts have expired without seeking the permission of their employers/kafeels.
If the migrant workers have been in the country for over a year, they are allowed to terminate their jobs before their contract expires, given they have been in the country for over a year and provided their employer a 90-days leave notice. The government has also developed an electronic platform for workers and their employers. On this portal, they can submit notifications, post job openings, and recommend transfer requests – tasks that were previously under the kafeel’s discretion.
The LRI tackles the issue of exit and re-entry to Saudi Arabia for migrant workers. Before the LRI was introduced, a foreign worker could not exit and re-enter the country without obtaining a visa from their employer/kafeel. Now, the permission of the kafeel is not needed as employees can directly request a visa using the government’s online portal.
The government has the authority to deny the visa if the applicant has any outstanding fines or debts. In the case the request is approved by the government, the employer will automatically be notified when their employee leaves the country and when they come back to it.
Impact of Labor Reform Initiative
The re-entry and exit visa can last up to 30 days, and only the employer can extend the duration of the visa. If the migrant employee does not return to Saudi Arabia after 30 days, they are permanently banned from working in the country. This new system doesn’t exclude employers from issuing exit and re-entry visas, but instead, the new system works alongside the Kafala system. Employees working on low wages and who depend on their employers for housing, food, and transportation may not benefit from this system due to their inability to access the online portal.
Sponsors and employers still make the final call regarding the mobility of their employees. This new system can be seen as a facade to cover the preexisting exploitative practices, which continue to harm foreign workers.