Bilateral Labor Agreement with Gendered and Unfree Labor: Vietnamese Women Domestic Workers in Saudi Arabia

Angie Ngọc Trần, Angie Tran

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Using a systemic and institutional analysis of transnational dynamics in the recruiting, hiring and placement of Vietnamese female migrants in domestic work in Saudi Arabia, this article showcases the experiences of Vietnamese female domestic workers in Saudi Arabia and contributes to the social protection and migrant domestic worker literatures. It contributes a critical analysis on whether bilateral labor agreements can be mechanisms for social protection of migrants. Focusing on the case of Vietnam, I argue that the bilateral labor agreement (BLA) signed between Vietnam and Saudi Arabia, enacted by the Vietnamese labor brokerage state and the Saudi Kafala systems, is a form structural violence because it fails to provide social welfare and protection for Vietnamese women domestic workers. In this systemic/structural violence, intersectionality shows that not all female workers suffer the same since ethnic minority workers most often suffer more than the majority (Kinh) female workers. Moreover, inside the Kafeel (the employer/sponsor) homes of this system, most of these female workers suffer, as unfree labor, from being transferred from one house to another, resulting in precarity, cycle of debt and dispossession of their rights.
Original languageAmerican English
JournalJournal of Labor and Society
StatePublished - Oct 17 2023


  • gendered and racialized domestic labor;
  • Kafala System
  • social protection
  • structural violence
  • transnational labor migration
  • Vietnamese labor brokerage state


  • Social and Behavioral Sciences
  • Social Welfare
  • Migration Studies

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