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Visa sponsorship reforms can aid ME countries: ILO

BEIRUT, May 8, 2017

Reforming the current visa sponsorship arrangements that govern temporary labour migration in the Middle East would have wide-ranging benefits – from improving working conditions and better meeting the needs of employers, to boosting the economy and labour market productivity, according to a new ILO report.

The unique aspects of sponsorship systems in the Middle East, commonly known as kafala, result in a delegation of responsibility by the State to the private employer to oversee both a migrant worker’s immigration and employment status. This is inherently problematic as it creates an imbalance between the rights and abilities of workers and employers to terminate an employment relationship, and be mobile on the labour market in the respective country.

The ILO report argues that reforming the sponsorship systems in a way which disassociates a worker’s immigration status from their employer’s control, and enables a migrant worker to resign or terminate his/her employment contract by giving reasonable notice and without losing valid immigration status, can have significant economic, social and administrative benefits. Furthermore it may contribute to progress towards nationalization programmes, the smooth functioning of the labour market, and adherence to the rule of law.

In particular, reforming kafala can achieve:

• Economic benefits to the State through raised economic productivity as a result of a more attractive labour market for both businesses and workers with recognized skills; and an improved international reputation.

• Benefits to companies and workers through improved skills-matching of workers to companies, and an incentive for employers to provide higher wages and better working conditions to attract talent.

• Improved labour governance through a reduction in practices where employers seek to sponsor multiple workers without intending to employ them (a practice also referred to as visa trading). It could also lead to a reduction in employer practices that are designed to prevent migrant workers from leaving the employer (or ‘absconding’), including through withholding of wages, passport confiscation and restrictions on freedom of movement.

The framework for analysing the core aspects of sponsorship systems in the region is simplified to five key questions: namely, is the migrant worker tied to the employer for:

i. Entry to country of destination?
ii. Renewal of residence and work permit?
iii. Termination of employment?
iv. Transfer to a different employer?
v. Exit from country of destination?

This approach allows a comparison of the sponsorship systems of eight countries in the region, while also outlining some examples of recent reforms.

The paper presents a series of suggested evidence-based policy measures for reform of current sponsorship systems, which may enhance internal labour market mobility and promote fair migration. These suggested policy measures include:

• ensuring that a migrant worker’s entry, residence and work permit are not tied to a specific employer;

• enabling the migrant worker to be responsible for renewing his or her own visas, work and residence permits;

• creating the option for migrant workers to resign and terminate his/her contract (with notice), without losing valid immigration status;

• ensuring that a migrant worker has the possibility to change employers without the consent of his/her current employer and without losing valid immigration status; and

• permitting the worker to exit the country without seeking approval from his/her employer. – TradeArabia News Service




Tags: ILO | Migrant workers | Kafala |

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