Harry Hsing is an associate in our Abu Dhabi office.

The government of Bahrain recently announced changes to the country's rules relating to work visas for expatriate workers. Specifically, foreign workers in Bahrain are now able to change jobs without the consent of their employers. The previous system, which still exists in many other countries in the Middle East, requires that a foreign worker hold a work visa from his employer. The current prevailing rule in the Middle East requires that if a foreign worker wishes to change jobs, he must get his employer's permission through a no-objection certificate or risk deportation.

This change in legislation comes after three years of deliberation and with input from the Bahrain Chamber of Commerce and Industry. The change was implemented in August 2009.

This new rule will help to bring an end to the current phenomena of Bahraini citizens sponsoring multiple foreign workers and charging a "visa fee" to work for another employer. Another effect of this new rule will be to slow the number of foreign workers entering Bahrain. Currently there are over 500,000 foreign workers in Bahrain, making up approximately 50 percent of the country's population.

The enactment of this new rule includes a mandatory government review of each foreign worker's request to change jobs to ensure that the change in employment is being administered within the framework of the law. Any legal disputes that arise between a foreign worker and his employer will be resolved in the Bahrain court system. One carve-out of this legislation is that this new rule does not apply to domestic workers in Bahrain.

The Bahrain government has also announced that they are considering imposing a cap on immigration to further slow the immigration of foreigners into the country.

This new legislation is the first of its kind in the Middle East and will likely result in more mobility in the work force as it will provide foreign workers in Bahrain with increased leverage to improve wages, working conditions, etc. Other Middle East countries are considering a similar change in their laws, but there is significant opposition in many countries.

Holland & Knight attorneys can provide guidance regarding employment and labor law in Bahrain and other countries in the Middle East.


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