Qatar is set to abolish the Kafala sponsorship system, marking the end of the decades-long employee sponsorship system. 

Qatar is taking major steps to abolish its Kafala or sponsorship system. As part of sweeping reforms to its labour market, Qatar has pledged to abolish the Kafala system, which ties migrant workers to their employer and requires them to have their employer’s permission to leave the country.

In October 2019, Prime Minister and Minister of Interior HE Abdullah bin Nasir bin Khalifa Al Thani announced Qatar’s move to abolish the system, which is expected to enter into force in January 2020, marking the end of an employee sponsorship system. 

The Ministry of Interior (MOI) and Ministry of Administrative Development, Labour and Social Affairs (MADLSA) announced the adoption of new legislation related to the draft law on the country’s minimum wage. Qatar endorsed a new law establishing a non-discriminatory minimum wage: a first for the region. The non-discriminatory minimum wage will apply to all nationalities and all sectors of the labour market. The level will be set soon.

Qatar National Library: International Humanitarian and Human Rights Law Lecture

Many human rights and labour organisations have been working with Qatar to improve the country’s labour laws. The International Labour Organization (ILO) has been working with the Qatari authorities since November 2017 through a three-year technical cooperation programme. An ILO Project Office in Doha, established in April 2018, has been supporting the labour reform agenda.

‘The ILO welcomes these reforms and recognises the commitment of the State of Qatar to transforming its labour market. These steps will greatly support the rights of migrant workers, while contributing to a more efficient and productive economy,’ said ILO Chief, Guy Ryder.

‘Qatar is changing. The new tranche of laws will bring an end to kafala and put in place a modern industrial relations system,’ said Sharan Burrow, General Secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation, which supports the partnership.

Understanding the Kafala system

The Kafala system, which is common across the Middle East, manages migrant residency and employment. Under the system, a local citizen or company, known as the kafeel or sponsor, must sponsor expatriate workers in order for their work visas and residency to be valid. Consequently, the individual’s employment and legal status in the country is dependent on his or her employer (who is also the sponsor). In addition to the employer controlling the mobility of the worker by occasionally withholding their passport, the employer has legal control over their ability to change employment and exit from the country. 

In addition, under the system, migrant workers must obtain their employers’ permission in a form of an official document called the NOC, before changing jobs. Under the new laws, workers will be able to change jobs following an initial probationary period. 

Further new proposals

In October 2019, the MOI and MADLSA announced the prospective implementation of the following three new proposals:

Allowing sons of expatriates to work in the private sector without changing their sponsorship.

Under the current system, only daughters of expatriates are allowed to work without changing their sponsorship. As per the new proposal, all members of the family will be allowed to work without changing their family sponsorship. However, sons interested in changing their sponsorship must receive approval from their sponsoring company. Further details on the sponsorship transfer are yet to be conveyed. 

Granting temporary work visas to private companies, commercial establishments and other licensed entities in Qatar for up to six months: QAR300 for one month; QAR500 for two months; QAR200 per month for six months. 

The new temporary work visa system aims to accommodate the needs of the local labour market and create a suitable environment for domestic and foreign investment. These visas will be granted to companies that are interested in visiting Qatar to perform urgent, temporary or seasonal work for a short-term period. The visas will be issued by the MOI after the approval of the MADLSA. All necessary procedures will be carried out through Qatar Visa Centres abroad or on arrival to Qatar.

Reducing fees for all online transactions on the MOI’s online platforms by 20%.

This comes within MOI’s vision to become a paperless entity through the use of digital or electronic systems and transactions, and encouraging other entities and individuals to adopt the similar sustainable practices.

According to the MADLSA, the new proposal aims to benefit the existing labour force rather than bring new workers.

Change has come

In 2018, as part of Qatar’s ongoing efforts to introduce legislative reforms, The Amir, HH Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, signed two new laws which abolished exit permits for non-domestic migrant workers, and introduced an opportunity for qualifying expatriates to apply for permanent residency in Qatar.

In addition, Qatar recently did away with the need for an NOC if the migrant worker completed the contract duration or finished five years in the event of an undefined time period in a contract.

Note: The new laws and proposals are subject to change and are yet to be finalised. It has not been determined when the new propsals will be implemented. 

Author: Ola Diab

This feature is an editorial from the ‘Discovering Qatar’ section in the latest issue of Marhaba – Issue 76, which comes out in December 2019.

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