Is it not time for us to review the issue of the kafeel?

During my stay in Britain in the early 1970s, there was a residency law that would enable foreigners to live in the country. All that they had to do was to bring a letter from a tax-paying company that it needed them.

Of course things have changed since then due to the growing anxiety among Britons that foreigners might take over their jobs.

To sum it up, every country in the world takes precautions against the influx of immigrants. Therefore systems and laws were made to curb foreign migration. At that time the only concern was that the foreigners might compete with locals for employment. However, many other reasons cropped up later.

With the beginning of the economic boom and development in our country, rules and regulations were made with a view to protecting the rights of both the state and individuals and also to maintain national security.

These rules necessitated what was called the kafala (sponsorship) system to take care of expatriates coming to our country to work in the fields of agriculture, industry, construction and others.

Yes, it is the right of the government — any government for that matter — to adopt elaborate measures to safeguard the security of the country and its citizens.

Things went well in the past but now they have become somewhat obscure and confusing. The pretext used by people to maintain the kafala system no longer exists as the sponsor does not need to keep an eye on the foreigner any more. For the best part, the kafeel is just a name on paper. You may, for instance, find an expatriate worker in Riyadh while his or her kafeel lives in Sharourah.

The government and its security organs are managing and monitoring the activities and movement of foreigners through electronic networks. The kafeel is no longer needed to be a shield or fence for the country.

All what the kafeel is now doing is safekeeping the passport of his sponsored employee though this is against international law.

Accordingly, is it not time for us to review the issue of the kafeel? Is it not time to put an end to the sufferings of the expatriate workers at the hands of the so-called sponsors?

The expatriate workers are asked by their kafeels to pay monthly or yearly fees for any service they may do for them including the iqama renewal or the issuance of an exit-reentry visa.

The service sectors, such as hospitals, often exploit this weird fees to burden the service seekers with more charges. If you ask a foreign worker in the Kingdom what he or she does with their money, it is not unusual to hear that it ends up in the kafeel’s pocket.

I think it is time to find an alternative for the kafeeel. The recruited worker should be the kafeel of himself.

When we bring the foreign manpower into the Kingdom, we should make it imperative on them to be law-abiding. They should sign a pledge to respect our religion, culture and customs but when they breach this pledge, they shall be immediately deported.

I am sure the foreign workers will not beak the law or do anything against public interest simply because they have come to our country to make a living. They are here to make financial gains for themselves, not for their kafeels.

I must point out here that those expatriates who were convicted of crimes such as prostitution, drugs, forgery and fraud in the past had come to our country as foreign recruits through a kafeel.

written by Abdulaziz Al-Dhukair

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