Bahrain launches new ‘flexible’ work permit

Regime opens the door for consultants and freelancers to work on project-by-project basis

Bahrain’s Labour Market Regulatory Authority (LMRA) has officially launched a new ‘Flexi Permit’ – a type of work permit it says will allow expatriates to work and live in the country without an employer as a sponsor.

The new permit grants more freedom than the traditional sponsorship system, and workers are now able to undertake any job with any employer, on a full- or part-time basis. The permit lasts for two years, is renewable, and allows travel in and out of Bahrain.

The Flexi Permit opens the door to consultants and freelancers who can now work on a project-by-project basis with whichever employer they choose – effectively sponsoring themselves. There are two sub-types of Flexi Permit – one specifically for the hospitality industry and one covering non-specialised jobs in all other sectors.

Undocumented migrant workers should also benefit from the new permit, which will help progress their status from ‘illegal worker’ to legal.

Ali Al-Aradi, an academic and HR development professional, believes the permit is the answer to rapidly growing changes in the labour market. “It will give organisations the flexibility to meet their talent needs and offer a legal alternative to employing illegal workers in the country,” he said.

Currently, 2,000 permits per month can be issued. While Al-Aradi acknowledges that expatriates can now essentially act as their own sponsor, he doesn’t think the Flexi Permit will lead to the development of a ‘gig economy’.

“The LMRA will manage this scheme directly,” he said. “The new permit format is not available for runaway workers, nor does it allow expats to leave their current employers, with whom they are under contract, in order to benefit from the new system.

“However, this move will increase competition for jobs and make the Bahraini labour market more flexible; therefore, Bahraini jobseekers now need to understand this new challenge and update their knowledge and skills by using support schemes from training providers such as Tamkeen to remain competitive when seeking jobs. Also, the Flexi Permit will lead to an increase in the labour supply, so wages are likely to decrease and this may affect purchasing power,” he added.

Applications are processed at the LMRA and appointments must be requested from the applicant’s own mobile number by sending a SMS. To be eligible, expatriate workers must be in possession of a passport valid for at least six months; have either a terminated work permit or an expired permit that has not been renewed by the previous employer; and have BD449 in fees to pay at the LMRA. There is also a monthly BD30 fee. Once the application is processed, workers receive a ‘blue card’ which they must keep with them at all times and renew every six months.

The permit is not only attractive to workers, but also to employers – under the new system, employers are not liable for individuals’ healthcare costs and only pay wages for services rendered.

“This is a good human resource management practice,” said Al-Aradi. “When other GCC countries see the outcome, they will definitely follow with a similar permit scheme.”