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Qatar Removes Exit Permit System for Migrant Workers

Qatar has amended its residency law to allow migrant workers to leave the country without an exit visa, bringing relief to workers from countries like India, Nepal, and Bangladesh.

On Tuesday, Qatar’s emir signed a new law to remove certain provisions that required all migrant workers to seek permission from their employers before leaving the country.

Qatar’s government-backed news agency Qatar News Agency (QNA) said the law will allow Labor Code covered immigrant workers to leave the country temporarily or permanently without any exit permit within the duration of their work contract.

Welcoming the move, Indian ambassador to Qatar P. Kumaran told Qatar Tribune, “We welcome the move as progressive, and look forward to receiving more details as to which categories it will apply to. We are hopeful that it will bring substantial benefits to expatriate workers when implemented.”

International bodies like International Labor Organization (ILO) and International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) have also welcomed the reformatory step Qatar’s Amir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani has taken.

“The ILO welcomes the enactment of Law No. 13, which will have a direct and positive impact on the lives of migrant workers in Qatar. This first step towards full suppression of exit permits is a clear sign of commitment by the Government of Qatar to labor reforms and a key milestone in the process. The ILO will continue to work closely with the government of Qatar on these reforms,” said Houtan Homayounpour, the Head of the ILO Project Office for the State of Qatar.

However, it also mentions that employers will be allowed to submit before the Ministry of Administrative Development, Labor and Social Affairs the names of workers for whom a “no objection certificate” would still be required. For this, the employers will have to give a justification based on the nature of their work. Although the number of these workers per company will be limited to five percent of their employees.

For the workers falling outside the Labor Code, rules and procedures related to their exit will depend on a Ministerial order.

Sharab Burrow, General Secretary, International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) took Twitter to laud this decision. She called this step as an ending of the central part of “Kafala” system, which she addresses as a form of modern slavery.

Kafala is a system in Qatar which monitors and deals with immigrant workers in the country. Some of the stringent norms of this system are: Employees have to take permission of employers before changing their job, leaving the country, or even renting houses etc. Confiscation of immigrant workers passport for entire period of contract is also included in it.

These strict policies enforced on migrant workers have been attracting widespread criticism from human rights groups, who have been calling for it to be abolished. Qatar’s current step is also being seen as an attempt to remove some negativity associated with its name ahead of the Soccer World Cup 2022, which it is hosting.

In this line, it was reported earlier this year that Qatar may increase the minimum wages for workers by the end of 2018.

Recently, United Arab Emirates also launched a visa amnesty program to enable foreign workers overstaying their permits to leave the country without paying any fine or undergoing jail term. It will allow workers to look for a new job within six months.