GRM 2010 GRM 2011

Abstract Details

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Title of Paper:
Migration Policies Across the GCC: Challenges in Reforming the Kafāla
Paper Proposal Text :
Much of the debate over immigration policy in the states of the Gulf Cooperation Council
(Bahrain, United Arab Emirates, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman, and Qatar) revolves
around the kafāla, or sponsorship system. In recent years, scholars, activists and policymakers
have all debated the urgent need for kafāla reform. In its current form, the system is not
sustainable. Initially designed to ensure a steady supply of labor for economic development, the
kafāla system has come under growing criticism from non‐governmental and human rights
organizations. Such criticism reached new heights when Qatar was awarded the rights to host
the 2022 FIFA World Cup. With this decision, Qatar and the rest of the GCC were exposed to
greater scrutiny for their labor conditions and policies. While all GCC countries share a variation
of the kafāla system, each country has attempted to implement a different set of reforms at
various times over the last decade. Results from these reforms have been marginal and limited
in scope. In most cases, the reform agenda has faced significant opposition from a coalition of
domestic groups and economic interests that underlie public support for the status quo. This
chapter provides an overview of the kafāla system in the GCC countries and the different
reforms that have been attempted. We draw on original survey data from across the GCC to
better understand the varying conditions across these countries and how interests shape the
challenges to reform. Finally, we return to the motivating case of Qatar, which has recently
implemented changes to its labour laws. Using quarterly survey data, we explore the degree to
which citizens’ perceptions and support for these reforms have changed over time. We
conclude by drawing lessons for the broader GCC and speculate on the opportunities for reform
in the future.