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Exit Visa system and Kafala

Topic covered:

 Effect of policies and politics of developed and developing countries on India’s interests, Indian diaspora.

 

Exit Visa system and Kafala

 

What to study?

For prelims: what is exit visa system and what is Kafala, countries implementing these laws.

For mains: why it’s time to end these archaic laws?

 

Context: Qatar is set to abolish its controversial exit visa system for all foreign workers by the end of 2019. The new law allows most workers to leave the country without exit permits from their employers.

 

Background:

Qatar has introduced a series of labour reforms since its selection as the 2022 World Cup host, with the event setting in motion a huge construction programme employing foreign workers.

In September 2018, Qatar approved legislation to scrap the “kafala”, or sponsorship, system which required that foreign workers obtain permission from their employers to leave the country.

As part of its pledge to reform the labour section, Qatar has also introduced a monthly minimum wage of 750 riyals ($206) and agreed to work closely with the ILO, which now has an office in the capital.

 

What is kafala?

The ‘kafala’ system is a system that lays down obligations in the treatment and protection of foreign ‘guests’. Kafala means ‘to guarantee’ or ‘to take care of’ in Arabic.

Under the system, a migrant worker’s immigration status is legally bound to an individual employer or sponsor (‘kafeel’) during the contract period. The migrant worker cannot enter the country, transfer employment nor leave the country for any reason without first obtaining explicit written permission from the kafeel.

 

When did the kafala system start?

The kafala system began in the 1950s when several Middle East countries started hiring foreign workers to accelerate development following the discovery of oil.

 

Where is the kafala system practiced?

It is being practiced in the Gulf Cooperation Council member countries of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, and also in the Arab states of Jordan and Lebanon.

 

Why it should be abolished?

Human rights groups say the migration management system enables exploitation and forced labor—labor extracted by under the threat of penalty, and not offered voluntarily by the worker.

The media have likened employment conditions under kafala to “modern-day slavery.”

Some migrant workers end up absconding from their employers to seek refuge elsewhere. In the Gulf states, absconding is considered a crime and that leads to indefinite detention and deportation.

Complaining puts them in conflict with their sponsor, who has the power to cancel their residence visa and have them deported.  

The kafala directly contradicts the labour law. The employer can dictate the recruitment process and working conditions.

It restricts labour mobility. It prohibits any mobility on part of the worker unless approved by the kafeel. If the kafeels are unwilling to let them go, workers cannot leave them for better employment.

 

Sources: The Hindu.

Mains Question: What is ‘kafala’ labour system? Qatar is set to abolish this system. Discuss its significance.