Kuwait to scrap controversial sponsorship system in February

September 26, 2010

Kuwait will scrap the controversial sponsorship system in February, the social affairs and labour minister has said.

“We will eliminate the sponsorship system in February to coincide with the launch of the labour affairs authority,” Mohammad Al Afassi said. “This will be our gift to expatriates on the occasion of Liberation Day,” he said, quoted by Kuwaiti daily Al Rai.

Al Afassi has been spearheading a drive to do away with a system that has often been likened by Gulf officials to modern-day slavery.

Under the system, foreigners cannot enter, work, switch jobs or leave a Gulf country unless they had the approval of a sponsor who had full control over their movements. The system has come under heavy criticism by local and international organizations amid calls to eliminate it. However, staunch lobbying by the powerful business communities has often hindered official measures to amend it.

Bahrain in 2009 became the first Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) to allow foreigners to switch jobs without the approval of their sponsors. The move was immediately decried by businesses who warned that it would inexorably harm the economy, but the labour ministry refused to change its stance.

Reactions to Al Afassi’s statement about the elimination of the system were mostly positive among bloggers.

“We thank the minister for his humanitarian touch and his compliance with religious tenets that forbid exploiting people,” Abdul Hamid wrote.

However, those who opposed the move said that the elimination of the system meant compounding problems.

“Now, a foreigner can leave his work and work elsewhere regardless of financial commitments or the employer’s rights,” wrote Saud. “This decision is obviously dictated by foreign forces and we resent it. Who will be made to assume the consequences? Employers have rights and they should not be overlooked,” he wrote.

Al Afassi has often said that Kuwait wanted to end abuses by work and residence visa traffickers by eliminating the system and promoting the labour affairs authority to help boost the local labour market.

Foreigners make up around two thirds of Kuwait’s total population of 3.3 million people.




About the author

Born August 3, 1960 in Monastir, Tunisia
Media career:
  • ABC News (Tunisia)
  • Bahrain Tribune
  • Gulf News
  • Bahrain Television News
Teaching career:
  • Monastir (Tunisia)
  • University of Bahrain
  • MA  Mass Communications, University of Leicester
  • BA  in English & US literature and studies, University of Tunis

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