By Habib Toumi, Bureau Chief.
Manama: Saudi Arabia has taken steps to do away with the controversial sponsorship system, a labour official has said.
“The ministry has removed the restrictions that business owners imposed on foreigners, from the freedom of their movement and keeping their passports to barring service switch,” Ahmad Al Humaidan, the ministry undersecretary for labour affairs, said.
The official said that the ministry had already removed references to the sponsorship system.
“We now talk about the transfer of services, and not the transfer of sponsorship,” he said at a forum organized by Saudi Arabic daily Al Eqtisadia.
However, the official said that people should not understand that the cancellation of the sponsorship meant that foreigners could arrive in Saudi Arabia and look for a job there.
“This will not happen and it is illogical. It does not happen even in the most organized labour markets, such as the US,” he said, quoted by Al Eqtisadia.
“What we want to achieve is to guarantee the foreigners’ full rights without harming the employers’ interests. We have already moved forward and we have removed many of the past restrictions,” he said.
Saudi media in March reported that a committee set up by the labour ministry had drafted a study that suggested setting up a company that would replace the sponsorship system.
The company, the Expatriate Labour Authority, would oversee the conditions of the millions of foreigners living and working in the kingdom.
The study recommended that the authority would be established in the Saudi capital Riyadh, but would have offices in several areas.
Under the proposal, foreigners would be allowed to keep their passports and would be able to bring their relatives or perform Haj (pilgrimage) or Umrah or visit a relative in a different region in Saudi Arabia without the permission of the sponsor.
The study also proposed the introduction of a mandatory insurance document to guarantee the financial rights of the employer and employee, a thorny issue in the contentious sponsorship system.