[ Human Trafficking, Country-by-Country ]

SAUDI ARABIA (Tier 2) Extracted in part  from the U.S. State Dept 2023 TIP Report

The Government of Saudi Arabia does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking but is making significant efforts to do so.  The government demonstrated overall increasing efforts compared with the previous reporting period, considering the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, if any, on its anti-trafficking capacity; therefore Saudi Arabia remained on Tier 2.  These efforts included continuing to investigate, prosecute and convict traffickers and increasing training on screening protocols in detention centers and border areas to improve victim identification among vulnerable migrants.  The government also updated victim identification guidelines in its NRM to ensure first responders could quickly provide victims targeted and specialized care and piloted a program to remove employer’s ability to file “absconding” charges against private sector workers, which was previously used as a retaliatory measure to restrict worker’s movements or ability to exercise their rights.  However, the government did not meet the minimum standards in several key areas.  Authorities did not consistently seek adequate penalties for convicted traffickers, which should include significant prison terms; this undercut efforts to hold traffickers accountable, weakened deterrence, and increased potential security and safety concerns.  Domestic workers continued to lack adequate labor law protections equal to those for other private sector workers and were excluded from the most recent sponsorship reforms, which perpetuated high risks to forced labor.  The government neither referred most victims to services or care, nor did it have shelters for male victims or female victims besides domestic workers.  It also did not consistently screen vulnerable populations for trafficking indicators, which may have resulted in the inappropriate penalization of some victims for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being trafficked, such as immigration or “prostitution” violations.  Finally, the government did not hold alleged complicit officials, including at least one diplomat stationed outside of Saudi Arabia, accountable for trafficking-related crimes, under its anti-trafficking law.

Prioritized Recommendations

Provide equal protections to domestic workers as private sector workers receive under the labor law and recent labor reforms, to ensure domestic workers’ freedom to change jobs or obtain an exit visa without employer consent and not just in cases of abusive employers.

Ensure victims are not inappropriately penalized solely for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being trafficked by proactively screening for trafficking among those arrested for immigration violations, commercial sex crimes, or those who flee abusive employers and face countercharges and deportation.

Increase efforts to prosecute trafficking crimes and seek adequate penalties for convicted traffickers, which should involve significant prison terms.

Pursue criminal investigations against all officials allegedly complicit in trafficking crimes, including diplomats stationed outside of Saudi Arabia.

Ensure all identified victims are referred to care and have access to shelter, including male victims and female victims in employment sectors other than domestic work.

Regularly use, and train officials on, the NRM, to ensure victims among vulnerable populations, including domestic workers, undocumented foreign workers, deportees, and PRC and Cuban overseas workers, including medical professionals and persons in commercial sex, receive proper care.

Ensure border guards and police are adequately trained to proactively identify potential victims, and continue to improve screening protocols, specifically at detention and deportation centers.

Amend the anti-trafficking law to remove sentencing provisions that allow fines in lieu of imprisonment for sex trafficking offenses.

Expand implementation of electronic contracts and the Wage Protection System (WPS) so that workers can utilize the new labor reforms, and include or develop similar initiatives for domestic workers.

Continue to investigate as potential trafficking crimes (not solely administrative issues) indicators of trafficking such as passport retention, withholding of wages, labor violations, and complaints of abuse.

Institute regular trainings for government officials on identifying cases of both labor and sex trafficking and differentiating between forced labor and labor-related crimes.