Qatar: End of Abusive Exit Permits for Most Migrant Workers

Qatar: End of Abusive Exit Permits for Most Migrant Workers

Qatar: End of Abusive Exit Permits for Most Migrant Workers

(Beirut)—Qatar announced on January 16, 2020 that most migrant workers previously prevented from leaving the country without their employer’s permission, including domestic workers, will no longer need an exit permit, Human Rights Watch said today. While this is an important step forward, the larger kafala (visa sponsorship) system, which facilitates the abuse and exploitation of migrant workers, remains intact.

A September 2018 law abolished the exit permit requirement for most migrant workers. But it did not extend to people who are not covered under the labor law, including government employees and workers in the oil and gas sector, at sea and in territorial waters, in agriculture, in private offices, and domestic workers. A new ministerial decision extends the right to leave the country without prior permission to most of those excluded workers, except those in the military. However, employers can apply for exceptions for a few workers, and domestic workers are required to inform employers that they wish to leave at least 72 hours in advance.

“Qatar has taken an important step to eliminate a tool of control that employers sometimes used to exploit workers and keep them entrapped in abusive situations,” said Rothna Begum, a senior women’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. “However, the authorities should ensure that no worker should have to get permission from an employer to exercise their right to leave the country.”

Disappointingly, both Law No. 13 of 2018 and the new Ministerial Decision no. 95 of 2019 still maintain exit visa requirements for some employees. Employers can apply to the authorities to designate up to five percent of their foreign national staff to be required to seek prior consent due to the nature of their work. While this designation does not apply to domestic workers, they are the only workers required to give their employers advance notice.

The official Interior Ministry Twitter accounts in English and Arabic stated on January 16 that domestic workers who leave without advance notice may have to forfeit their paid return travel fare and their financial rights, which could mean a claim to any unpaid wages. They could also face a four-year ban on re-entering Qatar.

The Peninsula, a Qatari online newspaper, cited a senior ministry official saying the same thing. However, in response to inquiries by Human Rights Watch and other international human rights organizations, The Peninsula removed the quote and the official ministry Twitter account removed the tweets later that day.

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