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Bahrain to get rid of visa sponsoring 7, May 2009

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Bahrain, Qatar.
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One of the key underlying problems with the issue of migrant workers in the Gulf lies in the sponsorship mechanisms. Workers from India, Indonesia Bangladesh and other countries sign up to a company who sponsor them to get to the Gulf country. This involves paying the company money over time for administration, visas and flights. The problem is that more often than not these companies are poorly regulated and abuse their position. Promised levels of wages often do not come to fruition, their hours can be significantly longer, the companies hold their passports, it is impossible to change jobs and so on.

Bahrain has, however, become the first Gulf country to end this system. According to the BBC such companies will be closed down and instead workers will work directly for the Ministry of Labour. This has advantages: it will enable the workers to retain their passport; they will be able to hand in a resignation letter and change jobs if they so choose and there is more accountability in the government department than an anonymous sponsorship company.

There are three possible motives for Bahrain’s decision. First, they could be doing this for humanitarian reasons; simply because it is the right thing to do. Call me cynical, but I doubt this very much. Second, Bahrain, like all of the Gulf countries, finds itself on the US State Department’s people trafficking list (though not as highly placed as Saudi, Kuwait and Qatar). This, therefore, is a blot on their international reputation and this new system could be a way of trying to remedy this situation. Third, Bahrain is facing large social problems. Their Shia majority is chaffing ever more at the Sunni minority rule. Unemployment is estimated to be around 15% and, as always, afflicts younger generations more. These factors have recently coalesced in the rioting in Manama and elsewhere. This measure can perhaps be seen in part as an answer to this. Theoretically, the Department of Labour can designate more jobs for Bahrainis now that they have control of the migrant labour supply. Whether a Bahraini citizen will take a job that is traditionally seen as a migrant worker’s job, is, however, a very different question.