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Thursday, October 28, 2021

Kafala? UK’s new sponsorship rules spark criticism online


Social media users in the Gulf criticised the UK’s new sponsorship rules, comparing it to the greatly debated ‘kafala system.’

An announcement posted on the UK’s governmental affairs website has caused a stir on social media in Qatar and the wider Gulf region.

The announcement said that from January 2021, “employers will probably need a Sponsor License if they want to hire EU nationals that were not living in the UK by 1 January 2021.”

“On 1 December 2020, the Tier 2 sponsor license route was replaced with the new Skilled Worker route. As well as being re-named, there are significant changes to the new system, generally for the better,” said the announcement made at the end of 2020.

This means that employers will need a sponsor license to employ someone from outside the UK, including citizens of the European Union (EU), Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland who arrived in the UK after 31 December 2020. This requirement also includes unpaid work.

Those exempt from this requirement are Irish citizens, those with settled or pre-settled status under the EU Settlement Scheme, and those with indefinite leave to remain in the UK.

While this announcement is not new, many in Qatar and the Gulf took to social media to slam the requirements.

The main reason for critique was due to the fact that the requirements were supposedly similar in nature to that of the ‘kafala’ system, the sponsorship system in the Middle East and Gulf region that has been heavily criticised by international bodies and western countries.

Many have even gone to accuse the UK’s newest sponsorship of being “modern slavery”, an accusation that has also been used to describe the kafala system by western entities.

One tweet read “at a time when the West and its institutions are calling for us to abolish the sponsorship system, Britain has slowly introduced a gradual and complicated sponsorship system for labour.”

However, a spokesperson from the Home office has refuted those claims, saying such accusations are “absurd”.

“The new sponsorship requirements for employers are largely related to employing EU citizens, following the end of free movement with the EU. Little has changed for people outside the UK who want to come here to work and still need to meet certain job, salary and language requirements, in order to do so,” the spokesperson told Doha News.

The Home Office spokesperson added that the UK has held a firm stance against forms of modern slavery.

Read also: Qatar, Jordan join forces to combat crime in new security agreement

“The UK has led the world in protecting the victims of modern slavery and we will continue to support those who have suffered intolerable abuse at the hands of criminals and traffickers so they can rebuild their lives,” added the spokesperson.

Freedom of movement between the UK and EU ended on December 31, 2020.

The UK has now implemented a points-based immigration system that treats EU and non-EU citizens equally. Any person that an employer in the UK wants to hire from outside the UK, excluding Irish citizens, will need to apply for permission in advance.

Any worker from outside the UK, who is sponsored by a business, is free to apply for another Skilled Worker Visa with another employer at any time, or to apply for a visa via another immigration route if needed and appropriate.

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