Saudi Arabia backs limit on foreign residency in Gulf


“We do not want the day to come when we are forced to allow the (foreign) workers to be represented in our parliaments or municipal councils,” Ghazi Al Gosaibi told the Arabic-language economic daily Al Eqtisadiah.

He said he feared that international pressure would in the future force states in the region to enfranchise expatriate workers.

Foreign workers make up about 13 million or 37 percent of the 35 million population in these six conservative Muslim states. They come mainly from the Asian sub-continent and are relied upon heavily to drive the booming economies of the oil-rich bloc. Gosaibi did not specify how long expatriate workers should be allowed to work in the GCC.

But Bahrain’s Labour Minister Majeed al-Alawi said in an interview last year that he supported a six-year residency cap, fearing expatriate workers were eroding the national character of states in the Gulf.

In a related development, Al-Watan newspaper reported that a human rights group in Saudi Arabia expects the heavily-criticised sponsorship system for migrant workers to be abolished within three years.

“We carried out a comprehensive study which showed the current kifala (sponsorship) system to be invalid,” the deputy president of the National Human Rights Society, Mifleh Al Qahtani, told the paper.

He added that Gosaibi had encouraged his group to undertake the study.

The sponsorship system, a set of regulations that limits workers’ movements and puts them at the mercy of their employers, is in place in the GCC states but has been decried by rights bodies as akin to slavery.


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