At least half a million Filipino workers in Saudi Arabia are not covered by the reform abolishing the ‘kafala’ system, easing working restrictions on some foreign nationals in the country including the freedom to change jobs and foreign workers’ right to leave the country without the employers’ permission.
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The monumental change, however, failed to encompass the large majority of Filipino workers in the Middle Eastern nation, as most of them are still subject to the effects of the system, which was often associated to slavery.
Despite Abolishment of Kafala, Many OFWs in Saudi Still Vulnerable
According to recruitment and migrants expert Emmanuel Geslani Filipino domestic workers and low-skilled workers were not covered by the removal of the Kafala system and was strictly only for skilled workers, which was implemented by the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Development on March 14, 2021, the Manila Standard reported.
In a statement, Geslani explained: “Our OFWs who are classified as Household Service Workers are still under the yoke of their sponsors and are not covered by the liberation given to skilled workers”.
He pointed out that domestic workers were classified as HSWs, drivers and gardeners were vulnerable to abuse and mistreatment by their sponsors in the households of these employers.
In line with this, the Philippines has called on the leaders of Saudi Arabia and Kuwait to remove the Kafala system in their efforts to acquire Filipino domestic workers who are highly in demand in both Middle Eastern nations.
Saudi Arabia has an estimated 500,000 domestic workers whereas Kuwait has are over 250,000 domestic workers.
However, these domestic workers are restricted by the system to change employers or leave the country despite the termination of their contracts without the “exit visa” provided by their sponsors.
This arrangement has been abused by Arab sponsors who refuse to issue exit visas unless payment is made by the Philippine Embassy amounting up to $5,000 in cases where the Filipino has asked for help to adjudicate the case with their sponsor.
Meanwhile, only skilled workers are allowed under the new system to change employers or leave Saudi Arabia without the need of an exit visa from their employer.
For this reason, Geslani urged the Philippine government to act on the problem to prevent abusing Filipino domestic workers from their employers.