The Kafala system explained

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The ‘kafala’ system is a system that lays down obligations in the treatment and protection of foreign ‘guests’. Kafala means ‘to guarantee’ or ‘to take care of’ in Arabic.

The system is only applicable in the following countries: Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, and also in the Arab states of Jordan and Lebanon.

Under the system, a migrant worker’s immigration status is legally bound to an individual employer or sponsor (‘kafeel’) during the contract period. The migrant worker cannot enter the country, transfer employment nor leave the country for any reason without first obtaining explicit written permission from the kafeel.

Questions and answers about the Kafala system

Is the Kafala system applicable in the kingdom of the Netherlands?
No, the kafala system is not valid in the Netherlands!

But when you come to the Netherlands with your employer you will need a permit to stay and work. Your employer needs to acquire a combined residence and employment permit (GVVA).

When did the kafala system start?
The kafala system began in the 1950s when several Middle East countries started hiring foreign workers to accelerate development following the discovery of oil.

Where is the kafala system practiced?
It is being practiced in the Gulf Cooperation Council member countries of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, and also in the Arab states of Jordan and Lebanon.

What problems do migrants face in the kafala system?
Some migrant workers end up absconding from their employers to seek refuge elsewhere. In the Gulf states, absconding is considered a crime and that leads to indefinite detention and deportation.

What are your labour rights when you come to work in the Netherlands?
All workers in the Netherlands are protected under the Dutch Labour law, with or without permit to stay. Which means that you:

  • should at least earn the minimum wage (9,04 euro per hour);
  • receive a holiday allowance (8% of your income bruto);
  • have paid holidays;
  • have time off;
  • work maximum 45h/week;
  • work under good and safe working conditions;
  • are allowed to see a doctor when you are sick;
  • have the right to continued payment during illness;
  • have the right to 16 weeks of maternity leave.

When your rights are violated, your can seek for protection and contact FairWork and talk to one of our cultural mediators who can speak with you in your own language. Our conversation is confidential and free.

Read more about the Kafala system