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Saudi Arabia Eases Controversial Restrictions On Foreign Employees

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Saudi Arabia has announced that it will ease several restrictions on foreign workers under a labour policy haul to attract overseas talent and reduce citizen unemployment. The new rules will come into effect from March 14 and will be applicable to all foreign workers in private firms, regardless of the salary.

The new changes will have a dramatic impact on the labour market of Saudi Arabia and the lives of over 10.5 million foreign workers who make up for about a third of the kingdom’s population. As a result, non-Saudis will have to no longer take permission of their employers to change their jobs, travel abroad or leave the country permanently, according to Deputy Minister Sattam Alharbi of Human Resources and Social Development.

During an interview on Wednesday, Alharbi said that the “runaway” reports which the employers can file against foreign workers who stopped to show up for their jobs, no longer hold any relevance. This system will be abolished and it will be replaced with a procedure to end the contract.

The current “kafala” also called the “sponsorship” system has been used for expatriates in Gulf countries for several decades. This system has faced flak from human rights groups as a form of indentured servitude. Economists said that it also entrenches a practice of companies hiring cheaper and more easily-exploitable foreign workers, even as Saudi unemployment rises.

“These changes are not small changes — they are huge,” Alharbi said. He explained that the government had worked upon the overhaul for over two years. “We aim to achieve more inclusion of Saudis, attract talent, improve the working conditions, make Saudi Arabia’s labour market more dynamic and productive,” he was quoted by NDTV.

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