Reform of the Kafāla System: A Survey Experiment from Qatar
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Immigration in the Arabian Gulf is governed by the kafāla (sponsorship) system, which provides the legal basis for the residency and employment of foreign workers across the region. Despite mounting economic, political and social costs, the system remains entrenched with little prospect for reform. The following paper takes up this puzzle, asking the simple question, why has vital reform been so difficult to achieve? In answering this question, we explore the complex political and economic interests that underlie public support for the kafāla system. Drawing on data from a nationally representative survey experiment in Qatar, we disentangle the effects of various interests on attitudes toward immigration reform. When primed to consider blue-collar workers, citizens strongly support the status quo and oppose reform. Heterogeneous treatment effects further suggest that a powerful coalition of economic interests (uniting business owners, workers and the wealthy) is the most supportive of the current policy, underpinning its persistence and representing a major challenge to reform.
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