Manama: Kuwait's immigration bureau has ordered officials not to allow domestic workers into the country unless their sponsors had approval from the police.

"No domestic helper should be allowed to enter Kuwait without proper documents from a local manpower agency proving that they have endorsed him or her," Al Shahed daily newspaper yesterday quoted officials as saying.

In the past employers could send a visa and plane ticket to the recruited helper without resorting to a manpower office. The new measures, according to unnamed sources, aim to ensure maids had police clearance from their home countries.

However, several employers have complained that the new procedures are forcing them to pay "astronomical" sums to manpower offices, the paper reported.

Around 700,000 women are employed in Kuwait as live-in domestic workers. In October 2009, Indonesia stopped sending domestic helpers to Kuwait, citing "concern over abuse".

The ban sparked anger in the Gulf country, and Fadil Ashkanani, the head of the Kuwaiti Union of Domestic Labour Offices, said that it was "an insult to Kuwait as it tarnishes the country's image concerning the treatment of domestic workers".

Saudi Arabia last July passed a new anti-trafficking law that set prison sentences of up to 15 years for forced labour in a bid to tackle the issues in the sector.

Riyadh is also said to be stopping the recruitment of housemaids from Sri Lanka, Nepal, Cambodia and Vietnam for alleged failures in the recruitment process.