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July 2012 Volume 19 Number 3
GCC: Sponsorship; Israel
The 16 million foreigners in the six Gulf Cooperation Countries are a third of its 45 million residents. Bahrain has a population of 1.3 million including foreigners; Kuwait, 2.8 million; Oman, 3 million; Qatar, 1.7 million; Saudi Arabia, 28 million; and UAE, 8 million. The share of foreigners among residents in GCC countries ranges from 30 percent in Oman and Saudi Arabia to over 80 percent in Qatar and UAE.<< back
Saudi Arabia has two-thirds of the residents and half of the workers in the GCC countries, so the Saudi government's announcement that recruitment companies supervised by the Ministry of Labor may become sponsors for foreign residents could portend major changes across the GCC. Under the proposal, foreign workers in Saudi Arabia would retain their passports and their Saudi employer would not be responsible for migrant violations of Saudi laws outside the workplace. Instead, compulsory insurance would cover fines for migrant violations and provide unpaid wages to workers.
The Saudi Ministry of Labor estimated that there were nine million migrant workers in Saudi Arabia in 2012. In October 2000, Saudi Arabia abolished sponsorship for employment but maintained sponsorship for immigration and residency.
Qatar in May 2012 suggested that it may follow Saudi Arabia's lead and end its sponsorship program. However, the MOL said that workers could not simply resign from one Qatari job to take another paying higher wages unless they first returned to their country of origin and re-entered with a contract to fill the second job. Under one proposal, sponsorship would be replaced by contracts that spell out the rights and obligations of employers and workers. There are an estimated 225,000 Qataris and 1.7 million foreigners in Qatar.
Human Rights Watch in June 2012 urged the Qatar government to end the sponsorship system sooner. Qatar, with fewer than 300,000 residents, has the world's highest per capita GDP.
A draft UAE law publicized in May 2012 would provide domestic workers a weekly paid day off, two weeks of paid annual leave, holidays and 15 paid sick days. Domestic workers are to be informed of job requirements before departing for the UAE, such as whether they are to care for children or the elderly. The law also includes penalties for workers who reveal their employers' "secrets" and for those who induce domestic workers to quit their jobs and provide those who quit with shelter.
Israel. The Israeli government is struggling with 60,000 migrants from Eritrea and Sudan who arrived since 2005; they are often called "infiltrators." It is hard to return migrants to these countries, so the government has placed primary emphasis on halting the influx by building a 247-kilometer-long fence on its border with Egypt and a detention facility for those apprehended.
In June 2012, the government began to deport migrants to South Sudan and to detain new arrivals. Those who leave voluntarily receive a departure grant of $1,300.
Foreigners can apply for asylum, but most receive a temporary collective protection status. Between 2009 and 2012, 16 of 7,000 asylum applicants were recognized as refugees. A bill considered by the Knesset in June 2012 would raise the maximum penalty on employers of unauthorized foreigners and those who house them from two years in jail to five years or a fine of NIS 500,000. A bill proposed by the opposition Labor Party would have Israel accepting a maximum 2,000 refugees a year to resettle, and reducing the number of foreign workers.
On June 10, 2012, several hundred Sudanese immigrants rallied in Tel Aviv, demanding refugee status. As they marched to the United Nations Refugee Agency building, they held signs saying "We are not infiltrators, we are refugees."
Israel "made the desert bloom," but relies largely on foreign guest workers to harvest fruits and vegetables, many of which are exported to Europe. The government allows farmers to employ 25,000 guest workers.
In June 2012, an agreement was announced that will gradually reduce the number of guest workers to 16,000. Under the new plan, farmers will pay $1,000 per guest worker to cover transport costs and fees. Guest workers may stay a maximum 63 months in Israel and are tied to their sponsoring employer.
The children of the nearly 14,000 Ethiopian Jews airlifted to Israel in 1991 are struggling to be accepted as Israeli. Immigration experts say that Ethiopian-Israelis grapple with racism and prejudice. Most hold low-wage jobs, most live in areas with other poor people, and many are alcoholics. In Kiryat Malachi, several landlords agreed not to rent or sell apartments to Ethiopians.
Isabel Kershner, "New Generation of Ethiopians March Toward Dream of Acceptance in Israel, New York Times, June 9, 2012.