Saudi Labor Ministry Warns Against ‘Advertising’ Domestic Workers; Visa Trade Rife During Ramadan across GCC

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Jun 16 2016

In a recent development, Saudi Labor Ministry has issued a statement warning employers against recruiting workers through illegal channels; specifically via advertisements and social media. Mohammed Al-Falih, assistant undersecretary for inspection, said that such recruitments violate the labor laws which oblige all employers to use certified recruitment agencies for the services of domestic workers. al-Falih urged employers to report advertisements of domestic workers to the Ministry of information. He also referred employers to “Musaned” which is the ministry’s portal on issues related to domestic labor. The ministry has established this e-system and the hotline 19911 for “citizens to communicate with customer service at the ministry” with inquiries or complaints regarding employment of domestic workers.

For the past four years, social media has become a prominent marketplace of domestic workers in the GCC. Migrant-Rights.org has reported previously on how instagram accounts either “sold” workers to others (known as the visa transfer) or ones that reported runaway workers with their pictures and names for others to spot them. These platforms are being used by employers to control the mobility and worth of domestic workers while bypassing regulations and procedures. The idea of recruitment fees as an “investment” is well-grounded in the Gulf and employers often feel justified to “buy and sell” workers instead of following laws that would cost them fees or time.

In March, Migrant-Rights.org published a piece on the monopoly of recruitment agencies and how Facebook pages and groups were being used as marketplaces for cross-border recruitment, bypassing certain moratoriums. Some of these pages have between 9,000 to 74,000 members. Their posts vary between “visa transfers”, “part-time”, “maid-sharing”, “live in” and “live-out”. Some employers illegally rent out the labor of their workers to make money, especially in busy times of the year like Ramadan. Workers from countries like the Philippines and Indonesia with bans on recruitment to certain Gulf countries go through other Gulf countries to then get “transferred” to employers in the UAE and Saudi Arabia where such bans are active. This indirect way of recruitment puts workers in higher dangers and facilitate their exploitation since the terms are not already settled prior to departure from their home countries.

With the beginning of Ramadan, the demand for domestic workers’ labor is high. Recruitment fees are reported to increase by 20% especially through irregular channels. Employers look for visa-transfers to hire workers instead of following procedures and waiting for workers from abroad who will need time to adjust and learn. Ramadan is also a season for undocumented workers, or others “rented-out” by their employers, to work with an hourly rate. Two years ago, al-Hayat newspaper said they would get at least 20 Riyals per hour. Yet, these practices are considered illegal which would put workers at the risk of getting arrested and deported.

A recent report by al-Rai newspaper mentions that Ramadan has doubled the cost of visa-transfer in Kuwait to as high as KD1400 (4600$). The report quotes a recruitment agent speaking of “iqama traders” who recruit workers from abroad before high seasons like Ramadan with lower costs via foreign agents, to then use their labor throughout Ramadan, and even offering them to multiple employers. One worker’s recruitment fees might cost between KD100-200 but then “sold” for KD500-650 and maybe up to KD800.

Advancing the rights of migrant workers throughout the Middle East