The Saudi Arabia flag next to a rubber stamp for a visa

The amendments on the contentious kafala or sponsorship system in Saudi Arabia will take effect in March 2021, according to Al Jazeera.

Saudi Arabia will mitigate the migrant workers’ mandatory restrictions, the Deputy Human Resources Minister told reporters on Wednesday.

It includes the right to change jobs, said Deputy Minister Abdullah bin Nasser Abuthunain.

A construction worker in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

An Offspring Of Saudi Vision 2030

The “Labor Relation Initiative” will affect approximately a third of Saudi Arabia’s entire inhabitants, per Daily Sabah.

The initiative will also include 10 million foreign workers.

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) authored the economic strategy Saudi Vision 2030, which the Labor Relation Initiative is a part of, Middle East Eye reported.

If this plan materializes, the overseas workers can leave the country sans their employer’s permission, Deputy Minister Abuthunain said.

Moreover, the next system will allow migrant laborers to end their contracts without their employer’s sanction.

Not to mention, it will guarantee benefits that befit employees.

Those benefits include a weekly rest day, overtime and sick pay, annual leave, and the national minimum wage. 

Rothna Begum of Human Rights Watch said the steps could “significantly” elevate migrant “worker’s conditions,” Daily Sabah reported.

On the other hand, It is not a complete abolition of the kafala system, per Daily Sabah.

A Sponsorship System Synonymous To Modern Slavery 

The kafala system binds foreign employees to a sole sponsor, per Middle East Eye.

In fact, it requires migrant workers to obtain permission from their sponsors to change jobs, open a bank account, or leave the country.

For ages, human rights activists criticized the practice as abusive and oppressive.

Human rights advocates say it is modern slavery, at the very least.

Daily Sabah reports that researcher Begum wrote how countless employers exploited this system by taking passports of workers, among others.

Begum of Human Rights Watch also details that employers force workers to toil excessively and begrudge them of wages.

This abuse led to countless workers making their escape, thus, becoming undocumented, according to Daily Sabah.

Opinion: A Progressive Change or a Diversion

Migrant workers have been coming to Saudi Arabia for as long as anyone can remember.

In fact, they’ve been coming longer than The Saudi Vision 2030, which came into being in April 2016.

These foreign workers have contributed to the economy of Saudi Arabia, and they deserve legal protection, as well as to be treated as humans.

In fact, they should be able to enter, reside, or leave the country without being dependent on the mercy of an employer or company.

Is Crown Prince MBS trying to earn brownie points after failing to join the UN Human Rights Council last month?

Or is MBS trying to divert our attention from the attempted extrajudicial killing of Dr. Saad Aljabri in Canada or the assassination of Jamal Khashoggi?

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