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Saudi Arabia to remove key restrictions on migrant laborers

Human Rights Watch researcher Rothna Begum...

described the three changes to the Saudi law as “significant steps that could improve migrant workers’ conditions,” but cautioned it does not appear to be a full abolition of the kafala system.

“Migrant workers still need an employer to sponsor them to come to the country and employers may still have control over their residency status,” said Begum...

Ali Mohamed, a researcher at Migrant Rights, said the kafala system will persist as long as both work and residence visas are tied to an individual, known as a “kafeel” or sponsor.

He also noted that widely-criticized conditions for migrants in Saudi detention centers exist regardless of the kafala system, although “any move towards de-linking migrant workers from the control of a single sponsor will certainly benefit migrant workers and is to be welcomed.”

May Romanos, a researcher on migrant rights in the Gulf with Amnesty International, said “the devil is usually in the details” and that until Saudi Arabia publishes the new reforms and fully enforces them it is very difficult to assess the impact these promises will have on the rights of migrant workers in the country.