Facing growing criticism, Qatar announces plans to re-evaluate sponsorship system rules

For the third time in a little more than a year, Qatar has said it will revisit its restrictive sponsorship system rules.

QNA reports that during its weekly meeting yesterday, the Advisory Council ordered the formation of a committee to look into the kafala system that requires expats to get their sponsors’ permission to leave the country (even for vacation), to switch jobs, or to rent a home or a car.

In May, the Labor Ministry’s undersecretary also alluded to changes in the sponsorship system, saying it will be “replaced with a contract signed by the parties.” 

The new rules still would not allow expats to change jobs easily, but it would remove the two-year employment ban they face if their sponsors don’t grant them permission to switch employers.

Old promises

Last year, Qatar backpedaled on promises to make changes, saying it wanted to see how Bahrain and Kuwait’s plans to abolish the system went.

The renewed attention to the sponsorship system comes as Qatar, host of the 2022 World Cup, faces intense international scrutiny. A Human Rights Watch report released in June criticized the rules, asserting they facilitate the abuse and exploitation of low-income workers.

Criticism at home

The kafala system is also no stranger to domestic criticism, including from its own prime minister, who in 2007 criticized it as a form of modern-day slavery.

The National Human Rights Committee has also weighed in on the issue, saying not allowing people to freely change employers or travel overseas is a violation of international labor laws.

The most vocal supporter of the system appears to be the Qatar Chamber, which argues that is unfair for employees to switch jobs after their employer pays for their passage here and job training.

At this point, many expats say any changes in the kafala rules would be welcome. 

Thoughts?

Credit: Photo by Wesley Fryer

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