Kafala Sponsorship Reforms in Saudi Arabia: Converging Toward International Labor Standards

Fahad L. Alghalib Alsharif

In recent decades, the Gulf states’ kafala sponsorship system (henceforth “kafala”) has been systematically scrutinized due to widespread violations of international labor and human rights conventions and norms. While some Gulf states have previously attempted to reform their kafala, Saudi Arabia has boldly announced comprehensive labor reforms in October 2020 by rigorously imposing strict and clear Islamic rules, which are principally rooted in fair and just treatment of migrant labor. These kafala reforms are in line with Saudi Arabia’s economic and political interests, as well as complementary to its Islamic religious principles, which broadly outline moral, religious, and ethical laws and norms related to contractual labor relations for workers. Considering the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, these labor reforms are not only integral to the Saudi Vision 2030 but also are related to the Saudi state's overall domestic and foreign policy objectives in the long run.