The Foreign Service Journal - December 2013 - page 29

THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL
|
DECEMBER 2013
29
complex series of multinational arrangements, recruiting agen-
cies “import” these individuals to work in the booming construc-
tion industry (usually men) or in households (usually women).
The agencies assign each guest worker to a local sponsor, to
whom he or she is legally bound until that sponsor chooses to
release them.
In fact, almost all expatriates who work for national compa-
nies in the region, including Arabs, Europeans and Americans,
have a place within the kafala system, as well. An American
executive working for a Qatari company is sponsored by that
company. But the qualitative circumstances of sponsorship usu-
ally fall sharply along ethnic and socioeconomic lines, and its
darker aspects affect poorer South Asian workers hardest.
What makes kafala so morally complicated is the way it keeps
vulnerable populations controllable, even as it publicly purports
to serve as a benignly paternalistic safety net for workers and
their employers. The guest worker’s legal status is dependent
on his or her sponsor, who according to laws and guidelines is
required to provide paid medical care, room and board, and
in some cases phone calls and periodic trips back to the home
country. A domestic guest worker is something of a non-family
member of household—in theory.
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