Qatar abolishes exit visa system in 'milestone' labour reform

Qatar abolishes exit visas for migrant domestic workers in 'milestone' labour reform
3 min read
16 January, 2020
Qatar scrapped mandatory exit permits for migrant domestic staff and other groups on Thursday, as part of efforts to boost rights for guest workers amid scrutiny of its record.
The International Labour Organization welcomed the changes. [Getty]
Qatar abolished exit visa requirements for migrant workers on Thursday as part of reform efforts ahead of the 2022 FIFA World Cup, with the UN praising the measure as a "milestone" in strengthening labour laws.

The ministerial decree allows nearly all migrant workers in Qatar to leave the country without first obtaining permission from their employers.

The exit visas were part of the "kafala" system, which critics say restricts workers' rights and leads to abuses.

Read also: Qatar unveils 'Arab inspired' logo for 2022 World Cup

A government statement said the ministerial decree is "another important step taken by the Government of Qatar to create a modern labour system that strengthens Qatar's employment laws and protects the rights of all expatriate workers".

Qatar changed its labour laws in October 2018 to remove the need for most private sector workers to obtain exit permits. The latest legislation expands those rights to domestic workers and those working in the public sector, the oil and gas industry, those employed at sea and those working in agriculture.

It said the decree would not apply to members of the armed forces, and that companies could designate 5 percent of their workforce, which must still seek prior approval to leave, due to their importance in the running of the firm.

It said domestic workers "should" notify their employers 72 hours before departure, but do not need permission.

The International Labour Organization welcomed the changes.

"The ILO warmly welcomes these changes, which will benefit many migrant workers in Qatar," said Houtan Homayounpour, the head of the UN labour body's office working with Qatar.

"The removal of exit permits is an important milestone in the government's labour reform agenda."

Rights groups, however, who have long accused Qatar and other oil-rich Gulf nations of labour abuses, said the latest reforms do not go far enough.

Human Rights Watch said that Qatar has also been slow to introduce other reforms, such as employer consent to change jobs and a non-discriminatory permanent minimum wage.

"Even if the Qatari government introduced these promised reforms fully, it would still not mean an end to the exploitative kafala system," said Hiba Zayadin, a Human Rights Watch researcher.

She said workers are still tied to their employers in terms of their legal status in the country and can face arrest and deportation if they leave their employer without permission.

The ILO project office in Qatar later tweeted an English translation of the ministerial decision, pointing out that "domestic workers should inform their employers if they plan to leave Qatar but do not need their permission".

Some 2 million foreigners work in Qatar, many employed directly or indirectly on vast infrastructure projects for the 2022 World Cup. 

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