Saudis ease work options for Syrians, Yemenis residing there

Story highlights

  • The Saudi Ministry of Labor launched a website this week called Ajeer, or "hired hand"
  • It will allow people with visitor or work visas to apply for work permits with employers other than their sponsors
  • Many Syrians and Yemenis are struggling to find work in the kingdom

(CNN)Syrians and Yemenis struggling for work options in Saudi Arabia have caught a break. They can now apply for temporary work permits and seek employment outside of the sponsors that brought them in the country.

The Saudi Ministry of Labor launched a website this week called Ajeer, or "hired hand." Its purpose is to allow those residing in Saudi under visitor or work visas to apply for six-month work permits with other employers that are eligible for renewal. The site is not restricted to Syrians and Yemenis, but it states that the goal of Ajeer is serve Syrians and Yemenis who have proper documentation.
Saudi Arabia has experienced a large influx of expatriates from the two war-torn countries. A reported 1.2 million Syrians are in Saudi Arabia under either work or visitor visas, and many are seeking employment.
Until now, Syrians and Yemenis have not been able to legally work as visitors in the kingdom or outside the employment of their sponsors. Like several other Arab nations, Saudi Arabia implements this sponsorship -- or kafala -- system, to regulate migrant labor. The labor ministry's new system will allow them to have more freedom to seek additional employment.
But there are some restrictions.
To join the site, members must have written consent from their Saudi host to work for another party. Host and applicant must register on the website, and members may only apply for blue-collar jobs such as maintenance or construction.
The members "are not required to give their passport or documentation," said a customer service representative at the ministry.
Saudi Arabia does not recognize these people as refugees, so they are not extended protections under United Nations regulations. Countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Kuwait, Oman and Bahrain) have been widely criticized for not taking in any Syrian refugees since the war began there in 2011. The GCC states are not signatories to the U.N.'s 1951 Refugee Convention.
Despite lacking refugee status, Syrian visitors are treated well in Saudi Arabia, said a spokesman for the UNHCR, the U.N.'s refugee agency.
"They are showing tolerance and are giving residence to Syrians," said the spokesman, Mohammed Abu Asker. "Saudi Arabia has its own definition for helping Syrian refugees, not labeling them as refugees but as Syrian brothers and sisters."
The ministry said people in the kingdom have already started accessing the Ajeer portal that launched on Tuesday and submitting their applications seeking additional employment in the kingdom.