UAE Laws

The Kafala System (Sponsorship) in Gulf countries

The kafala system is a system that is used to monitor migrant workforce, primarily the construction labourers and domestic helpers, in Gulf countries.

What is the Kafala for migrant workers?

The kafala system is a system that is used to monitor migrant workforce, primarily the construction labourers and domestic helpers, in Gulf countries. The kafala system requires all labourers to work under a local sponsorship, who is responsible for the legal status of workers.

A comparison of kafala systems in Gulf countries for the rights of migrant workers are following:


Foreign workers are allowed in Qatar to work under a sponsorship or kafala system only; the employee only works for the sponsor – can’t work outside without special permission. Transfer of sponsorship has required an agreement between existing and new sponsors; it is at the discretion of sponsors that they’ll transfer the sponsorship or not since the right to change is not under law.

If the current sponsor is not ready to transfer the worker’s sponsorship by granting a NO Objection Certificate (NOC), the worker has to leave Qatar for two years to return to Qatar under new sponsorship. For leaving Qatar, employees are required an EXIT PERMIT – without it, the worker cannot leave the country.

Saudi Arabia

Kafala system of Saudi Arabia requires all foreign workers to work under Saudi citizen’s or establishment’s sponsorship.

The sponsor is known as ‘Kafeel’ in Saudi Arabia, the sponsor is responsible for a foreign worker’s legal status in Saudi Arabia.

Foreign workers cannot leave Saudi Arabia without EXIT PERMIT.

United Arab Emirates

Foreign workers are required to be sponsored by a UAE national except domestic workers, for domestic helpers foreign nationals residing in the UAE can also sponsor. Establishments in the UAE can sponsor for hiring employees especially due to a UAE national partnership; he could be either owner of a business or a majority shareholder. Free zones in UAE have a different system, also the UAE government departments.

Labour ban in the UAE is yet imposed on all foreign workers working in the private enterprises; the ban is applicable when the employee wants to transfer the sponsorship in the UAE without completion of the two-year service. The ban could last for 6-months minimum.

However, the ban would be lifted if the worker is offered a higher position or a salary equal the salary set by the government for his or her qualifications.

Exit permit is not required for a foreign worker to leave the United Arab Emirates.


Bahrain approved the reforms in sponsorship system in 2009 by granting permission to foreign workers to change their job without a no objection certificate from their employers and without allegations of unpaid wages or abuse.

This legal reforms allowed foreign workers to change the employment after a notice period requirement, a 30-days grace to remain in Bahrain legally when they seek a new job. Nevertheless, they’re not applied to domestic workers, if you’ve domestic worker visa you’re not applicable to change the employment through aforementioned changes.

Exit permit is not required for workers in Bahrain to leave the country.


Foreign workers seeking to work in Kuwait for a private enterprise are required a work permit from the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labour under Kuwaiti sponsorship. For transferring the sponsorship, the release is necessary for the work permit from the sponsor.

Recently, the Ministry has founded the Public Authority for Labour Affairs to abolish the Kafala system. The authority will be responsible for all private enterprises’ employees’ affairs including recruitment and relationship.

EXIT PERMIT is not required for foreign workers to leave the country.


Foreign workers in Oman are not allowed to change the sponsorship without sponsor’s consent. Or else, the worker will be illegal to remain in the country, as per law mandated in 2003.

To transfer the sponsorship without completion of two years work period in Oman while remaining inside the country, required a release letter or a NO Objection Certificate from the existing sponsor.

EXIT PERMIT is not necessary in Oman to leave the country.

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Arif Mohammad

Independent Blogger, ECommerce Webmaster & Social Media Marketer. Mudawwana UK Director. Previously in Hong Kong, Abu Dhabi & Riyadh.

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