Saudi Arabia: Time To End Sponsorship System – OpEd


By Dr. Qaisar H. Metawea

When a country enacts law, one of its main aims is to ensure public order and to protect the rights of the people in their territories, whither they are citizens or foreigners. However, when laws of any country are outdated or abused by certain quarters of society, the government should review these laws, in order to amend or dispose of them or enact new laws to supersede them.

Saudi Arabia promulgated its Residence Law by the royal decree No. 17/2/25/1337 dated 11/9/1371 Hijrah, corresponding to 4/6/1952 Gregorian, and its amendments thereafter. This law, which was enacted more than 60 years ago, has caused much controversy since inception as it requires foreigners in Saudi Arabia to have Saudi sponsors (kafeels) during their residency in the country.

Nonetheless, the requirement of Saudi sponsorship has been a nightmare for many foreigners and many of them have had very painful experiences with their sponsors. Sadly, some sponsors make money out of their sponsored foreigners by allowing them to work for other employers in the country on condition that they pay them a percentage of their salaries. Most of the foreigners earn very low wages which are barely enough to feed their families and it is wholly unjust that any of them should sacrifice any percentage of his salary to give it to his greedy sponsor.

Usually when foreign employees desire to work for other employers, they have to obtain the permission of their sponsor, in order to transfer their sponsorship to the new employer. However, regrettably, some sponsors request payments (sometimes large amounts) from their sponsored foreigners to transfer their sponsorship to other employers. In most cases, if the foreign employee does not desire to work for his employer, who does not want to transfer his sponsorship to any other employer for any reason, the employer has the right to obtain a final exit visa for his foreign employee and force his departure from the country, even if the employee does not want to leave. If the foreign employee refuses to work for his sponsor and attempts to work for another employer without the permission of his sponsor, the latter may file an escape report against him to the authorities who can incarcerate the foreign employee and force his departure from the country. It is fair to say that the foreign employee is controlled by his sponsor during his residence in the country.

Of course, some greedy people, who have used or exploited their foreign employees, do not represent all Saudis. However, it is clear that the sponsoring requirement has already damaged the relationship between Saudis and many foreigners, especially those who have had horrible experiences with their Saudi sponsors. Also, the image of Saudi Arabia has been tarnished abroad due to the sponsoring requirement, as many human rights organizations have criticized Saudi Arabia for this.

The requirement of sponsorship should be canceled. Foreigners, who sign employment contracts to work in Saudi Arabia should need only a work permit to work in Saudi Arabia, not sponsors.

If the foreigners desire to work for other employers, they could notify the Ministry of Labor, for instance, prior to working with the new employers, within a specific period, such as two or three months, so that the ministry would be able to follow up with the employees and know who they are working for. Foreign employees should not have to request the permission of the employers in order to work for other employers. Why should foreigners be forced to work for some greedy employers, if they do not treat them well or not pay them their salaries? However if the foreign employee does not want to work with a particular employer and do not find alternative employment within a fixed period of time for example, then they may be asked to leave Saudi Arabia and go back to their country of origin or previous residence.

We really hope that the requirement of sponsorship will be canceled. We also hope that the Residence Law, the Labor Law and other relevant regulations are amended in order to reflect the cancelation of the sponsorship requirement. Foreigners should leave Saudi Arabia with happy memories of the country and its hospitable people, not with bad experiences with their sponsors.

— Dr. Qaisar H. Metawea is Attorney at Law-Partner, Mikwar, Akkad & Metawea Law Firm ([email protected])

Arab News

Arab News is Saudi Arabia's first English-language newspaper. It was founded in 1975 by Hisham and Mohammed Ali Hafiz. Today, it is one of 29 publications produced by Saudi Research & Publishing Company (SRPC), a subsidiary of Saudi Research & Marketing Group (SRMG).

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