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Saudi Arabia revises its regulations for absconding domestic workers

On April 17, 2024

Domestic workers in Saudi Arabia who are reported as absconding will soon have a two-month grace period to leave the country before their status becomes irregular. Workers with over two years of service will have the additional option to transfer sponsorship. Previously, domestic workers’ status immediately became illegal following an employer’s absconding report. 

The new regulations introduced by the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Development (MHRSD) will go into effect in late July. Domestic workers with pending requests to change sponsorship or those who have been issued a final exit visa cannot be charged with absconding. 

Employers can file absconding cases against domestic workers provided that they comply with the following conditions:

  • That the domestic worker’s permits are valid.
  • The domestic worker is not currently working in their household. 
  • The absconding domestic worker has a valid contract registered in the Musaned platform.
  • There are no cases against the employer at the dispute committee for domestic workers.

Employers have a 15-day window from the registration date to withdraw their case. After this period, the absconding case is considered final. Additionally, employers are not permitted to withdraw an absconding case registered within the first 90 days of the worker’s entry into Saudi Arabia. 

The domestic worker will be removed from the employer’s sponsorship and, under the new regulations, considered irregular 60 days after the case is registered. This implies that domestic workers will no longer be eligible to make any labour claims beyond that timeframe.

Domestic workers who are still within their first contract period (two years) and reported as absconding will be given 60 days from the date of the absconding charge to request a final exit visa to leave the country.  Domestic workers with contracts older than two years have the option to change sponsorship within the same 60-day widow. Workers who fail to exit or change sponsorship within the 60-day period will be considered irregular and subject to arrest and deportation. 

The MRHSD may extend the 60-day grace period if the worker initiates an application for sponsorship transfer up to one day prior to the expiration of the grace period. Domestic workers can transfer their sponsorship to other employers or recruitment or manpower supply companies.

Regulations for transferring sponsorship 

The recent MHRSD regulations tighten restrictions on changing sponsors without employer consent. Notably, two key protections for domestic workers appear to have been removed. Previously, workers had the right, at least on paper, to transfer if their employer filed a false absconding report, or if assigned hazardous work endangering their health.

Additional requirements for sponsorship transfers with employers’ consent have also been established. For sponsors, these include registering the contract on the Musaned platform, committing to paying wages electronically through designated channels on the Musaned platform, and a clean record with the MHRSD disputes committee. 

Domestic workers seeking to transfer sponsorship must have a valid residence permit (iqama) and no case filed against them at the disputes committee. 

Concerns and lack of clarity 

According to Article 6 of the new regulations, the rules regarding sponsorship transfer do not apply to domestic workers arriving in Saudi Arabia for the first time under a new contract, unless their contractual relationship with their employers has been terminated. Article 7 briefly outlines that the MHRSD shall establish guidelines, without providing further details, for cases where the employer of a domestic worker is entitled to compensation and how it should be calculated. This process will be facilitated through an electronic platform provided by the ministry.

Saudi Arabia has recently revamped absconding regulations for private sector workers, granting those with such cases filed against them a two-month window to secure new employment or leave the country. The new regulations for domestic workers partially mirror this approach, but a critical gap remains for workers in both sectors: the lack of adequate notification from the Ministry about absconding cases filed against workers. This can unknowingly push them into irregular worker status. There are also several challenges to using the Absher app, which centralises services for all residents, including absconding notifications. Women migrant domestic workers, in particular, do not always have access to communication devices and are dependent on their employers to even speak to their families.

According to’s recent research in the Kingdom, most lower-income migrant workers are also dependent on private service providers to initiate the complaints process. Direct access to the Ministry is ridden with obstacles such as language barriers. Women domestic workers in particular may have to exit the households to file a complaint. Without government proper shelters, they are likely to become homeless or dependent on friends, which would attract penalties for both the worker and the person sheltering them. There are also not enough diplomatic missions across the Kingdom for all nationalities, which makes it difficult for workers in distress to access support. Changes to absconding laws that aim to protect workers must respond to the ground realities and real-time concerns of workers.

Furthermore, the new regulations make no mention of penalties for sponsors who file false charges, including restrictions on applying for new visas for those with a history of reporting ‘absconded workers’. This omission raises concerns as employers may resort, as they have in the past, to filing absconding cases as a means to evade obligations, such as paying end-of-service benefits to workers. According to workers who are on so-called ‘free’ or ‘azad’ visas, sponsors file false complaints to free up visas or to meet sponsorship obligations if they have deployed them to work for other employers and in other sectors.

Increased flexibility for domestic workers to change employers and depart the country is a positive step, but corresponding reforms to strengthen regulations and make complaint mechanisms more accessible are needed for the reforms to take root. Past failures to enforce similar rights raise concerns about the actual impact of these new regulations.

Saudi Arabia’s domestic worker recruitment increased significantly in 2023. The number of domestic workers has grown by roughly 224,000 since 2022, reaching a total of 3.826 million.