The governance of the Kafala system and the punitive control of migrant domestic workers

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In the United Arab Emirates, the kafala system binds migrant domestic workers to employment with one employer-sponsor. While various studies have identified the labour conditions elicited by the kafala system, research has paid less attention to the forces that underpin workers' interest in accommodating the constraints of the kafala. This article examines the effects of two punitive legal mechanisms that discipline domestic workers to remain within the kafala: cancellation and illegalisation. To be cancelled means to have one's contract revoked by one's employer-sponsor and consequently be forcibly deported; illegalisation is the consequence that migrants face if they choose to “abscond” from their sponsor-employer without permission. By examining the punitive legal system in which the kafala system is embedded, this article contributes to understanding the legal mechanisms that discipline migrant domestic workers into servitude in the UAE.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere2487
JournalPopulation, Space and Place
Issue number5
StatePublished - Jul 2021
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Demography
  • Geography, Planning and Development


  • kafala
  • migrant domestic work
  • migrant governance
  • United Arab Emirates


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