Problem: The kafala (sponsorship) system used in labour markets in Bahrain and other Gulf countries was easy for a labour migrant to enter, but difficult to move within. This meant that businesses were not able to address a sudden need, avail themselves of a market opportunity, or satisfy a short-term contract without going through the administrative process of applying for a permit, sourcing the workers and flying them in. This was true even if the necessary skills were already available in the labor market thanks to foreigners working in the country, but who were not allowed to move from one employer to another or, worse, had to leave if their previous employer withdrew their sponsorship.
Solution: The Flexi Permit is a renewable two-year work permit that allows an eligible individual to work and live in the Kingdom of Bahrain without a Sponsor.
Goals and objectives: Bahrain launched an unprecedented policy in the region to improve the efficiency of its labor market and move beyond the sponsorship system – or kafala – for foreign workers. Among the primary rationales of the Flexi-Permit is the reduction of hiring costs for businesses and to divert money from the free visa black market – which a 2012 LMRA study estimated to be valued at BD70 million (approximately USD 185 million) – into government coffers.
Implementation: On July 23, 2017, Bahrain’s Labor Market Regulatory Authority (LMRA) launched the Flexi-Permit, an initiative that allows irregular migrants to regularise their status by sponsoring themselves and working legally for multiple employers.
Under Flexi Permit, a foreign worker has a status of “self-employed” with a permit and residency that allows him or her to work in any occupation and at any skill level, with any employer or number of concurrent employers, on a short- or long-term basis, full or part-time. This permit is issued for two years and renewable indefinitely, and includes medical insurance coverage.
Permitted workers can work in any non-professional jobs with any number of employers on a full or part-time basis. This permit comes in the form of a blue card which must be always be under possession and renewed every 6 months.
Achievements: The UN’s Global Compact on Migration forum highlighted the initiative as a “ground-breaking alternative to traditional labour market management systems.” The 2018 US Department of State Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report hailed the Flexi-Permit as “a concrete step to reform the sponsorship system,” and a key reason for upgrading Bahrain to Tier 1 status. Bahrain is now the first Arab country to reach the Tier 1 status, and the LMRA’s CEO Ausamah Al Absi became the first GCC government official to receive the “TiP Hero” award. Other GCC countries are reviewing the initiative and may emulate the model.
Labour Market Regulatory Authority, Kingdom of Bahrain
Address: P.O Box: 18333 Manama, Kingdom of Bahrain
Phone: +973 17388888, +973 17506055