UAE to bring in new passport laws

The UAE is set to implement legislation to stop the country's employers holding back the passports of its employees. The new law could drastically change the way many of the country’s top businesses operate.

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By  Rhys Jones Published  February 6, 2005

THE UAE is set to implement legislation to stop the country's employers holding back the passports of its employees. The new law could drastically change the way many of the country’s top businesses operate. It is standard procedure that many firms around the country retain the passports of their workers even though it is illegal. However, the new Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs is set to put an end to this practice. “The ministry will impose a new law on companies stipulating that employers should not retain passports of their employees,” said Dr. Ali Bin Abdullah Al Ka’abi, Minister of Labor and Social Affairs. “I believe that the passport is a person’s personal property and I completely disapprove of holding of the official document by some employers. The new law will put an end to this practice,” he added. The move follows a denial by the country’s Ministry of Labour and Social affairs that it intends to introduce mandatory exit visas for foreigners employed in the country before they can travel abroad despite reports to the contrary. Al Ka’abi said that exit permits were merely an option under consideration to stop employers holding back the passports of their employees. “It is fairly standard practice for a judge to order that the passport be removed from a defendant involved in a criminal complaint,” said Samir Kantarie, a legal consultant with Al Tamimi & Co. “Nevertheless, it is illegal in the UAE for employers to hold on to the passports of their employees but it is a widespread practice. “A person’s passport belongs to the sovereignty of the country the person is from. The new Ministry of Labour is currently trying to bring about legislation to change passport retention, but it is difficult to determine if it will do so effectively,” he added. Media reports last week claimed that the introduction of exit permits for foreigners would be aimed at preventing violators of the law from escaping from the country. Only the judiciary has the right to order a ban against anyone from leaving the country in cases where the person is involved in a criminal case or is suspected of planning to flee the country without paying debts. Several other Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) member countries, including Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, have such a system under which the employee’s sponsor has to apply through the authorities to obtain an exit permit. The UAE, however, has quashed rumours that it is set to follow suit. “We have no intention of imposing a travel-permit system on expatriate workers,” said Al Ka’abi. “No changes in the labour or residency rules have yet been proposed. We did not submit any such suggestions to the Ministry of Interior,” he added. Press reports last week quoted Al Ka’abi as saying that “expatriates working in the country, who intend to go on leave, will have to obtain a temporary travel permit jointly sanctioned by the Ministry of Labour and the Ministry of Interior”. “We will develop a mechanism to ensure that expat workers do not leave the country unless they were issued the temporary travel permit,” he is also reported to have said. Under current procedures, people banned from leaving the country are included in a ‘black list’ maintained in the centralised immigration computer network and they are detained at the country’s exit points if they try to leave. However, Kantarie believes exit visas would not necessarily stop criminals leaving the country. “If exit visas were introduced I don’t think it would stop lawbreakers from trying to escape the country. There are ways and means of getting out, either by going overland to Oman or by boat to Iraq,” he explained.

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