April 26, 2014 - 4:02:10 am

Talk that the sponsorship system is all set to be changed, if not scrapped, is gaining ground. Reliable sources say that under the new system the job contract foreign workers ink with their employers is to be given significance as that would likely regulate the relationship between the two.


Giving an example, a Qatari businessman who claims to have some idea about the changes expected in the sponsorship rules said: “If a worker would want release after serving his employer for a year or two and would like to take up a job elsewhere in the country, then that should be mentioned in his job contract”.

At present, employment contracts serve the limited purpose of verifying the salary and perks of employees in the event of a dispute between workers and their sponsors, the businessman, who didn’t want his name in print, said.

The State Cabinet has set up a committee to look into the sponsorship issue and propose changes as international pressure to simplify sponsorship and exit permit rules for foreign workers has been mounting since Qatar won the right to host the 2022 Fifa World Cup.

According to trade and industry circles, the committee has sounded them out as the sponsorship system directly concerns the private sector, which employs some 90 percent of the foreign workforce. 

The private sector strongly resists any changes to the system, particularly exit permit rules, arguing that their interests need to be protected by the state as 85 percent of the country’s population comprises foreigners, and most businesses are run by them.

As for allowing foreign workers to change jobs, the businessman said this should be freely permitted in the case of ordinary workers but conditions must apply to professionals.

It is not clear if the exit permit system, which is part of sponsorship rules, is set to be removed or will remain in force with alterations.

According to prominent lawyer Yusuf Al Zaman, the exit permit system should not be scrapped as it guarantees social and economic stability and security in a country where locals constitute just 15 percent of the population.

“What we need is a state agency that could allow a foreign worker to travel overseas if his sponsor is either not available or is reluctant to issue the permit,” Zaman said in a column published in a local Arabic daily recently. 

But the system has come in for scathing criticism from international organisations and they want it scrapped.

According to businessmen, though, that wouldn’t be doing justice as expatriates run many Qatari businesses and can run away with cash. “This is particularly true of businesses owned by Qatari women,” said a businessman, requesting anonymity.

Among the GCC states, Saudi Arabia and Qatar are the only countries that require expatriates to get an exit permit, so they are under increasing pressure to end the system.

Qatar is especially keen to reform both the sponsorship and exit permit systems as it prepares to host the Fifa World Cup in 2022.