A TOTAL of 30,000 expatriates have legalised their stay in Bahrain over the past two years by signing up for flexible work permits.
The documents allow recipients to live in Bahrain and work as freelancers, providing services to a variety of employers on either a full-time or part-time basis.
Those who registered for the flexible permits were previously illegal residents.
Labour Market Regulatory Authority (LMRA) chief executive Ausamah Al Absi told the GDN the scheme had been a huge success in combating the black market in visas.
“We have about 30,000 individuals who were issued the flexi work permit since the scheme was launched in 2017,” he said.
“We have statistics that prove there is a directly inverse relationship between the number of ‘irregulars’, commonly known as free visas, and the number of flexi permit holders.
“For every one (individual) who applies for the flexi, there is one reduced from irregular workers.”
The scheme has effectively halved the number of illegal expats living in Bahrain from an estimated 60,000 in 2017.
Bahraini businessmen have complained that it allows expats to legitimately operate in direct competition against them.
However, speaking during a business networking dinner hosted by the Bahrain India Society yesterday, Mr Al Absi said it was necessary to tackle the lucrative trade in illegal work visas and fill a gap in the labour market.
“The relics of the sponsorship system, started in 1965, cannot work now in the 2019 economy,” he said at the Capital Club Bahrain.
“The flexi scheme is an economic need to satisfy the market, which will normalise itself as we need casual ad hoc workers.”
Mr Al Absi explained a temporary workforce was needed to address the requirements of the gig economy, for which no provisions previously existed.
“There is the phenomenon of the gig economy today, where you don’t have a job – but as and when people contract you for work,” he explained.
He added past attempts to tackle the issue of illegal residents had been scuppered by persistent demand for casual or temporary labour.
Flexible work permits are available to illegal expatriates with expired or terminated work permits, those who have not been paid salaries and have filed cases against their employers, and expats whose workplace has a cancelled Commercial Registration (CR).
Those with travel bans or facing court cases are not eligible.
The permit costs money, but it is still cheaper than the $4,000 expats previously spent on Bahraini work visas in the black market to come here.
However, Mr Al Absi said it was constantly under review.
“We are sailing in uncharted waters and are learning as we go,” he said.