Browsing 'sponsorship' News

Richard Messenger/Flickr

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

A new law governing nearly all of Qatar’s expats comes into force today.

According to QNA, the law “abolishes the kafala (sponsorship) system and guarantees greater flexibility, freedom and protection to Qatar’s more than 2.1 million salaried workforce.”

But rights groups say that in reality, the changes “barely scratch the surface” when it comes to protecting low-income workers from exploitative bosses.

Chantelle D'mello

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

In a statement this week, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for Global Issues James Lynch said:

“This new law may get rid of the word ‘sponsorship’ but it leaves the same basic system intact… The tragedy is that many workers think that this new law will be the end of their ordeal.”

Human Rights Watch has previously expressed similar concerns. It said the changes leave the “fundamentally exploitative characteristics of the kafala system in place.”

However, Qatar has rejected these assertions.

In a statement yesterday, the Government Communications Office said, “We remain committed to the development of a labor system that is fair to both employers and employees alike.”

Minister of Administrative Development, Labour and Social Affairs Dr. Issa bin Saad Al Jafali Al Nuaimi also weighed in during a press conference yesterday, saying:

“We urge the international community not to draw any definitive conclusions until there has been time to see the new law in action.”

What has and hasn’t changed

The criticism is in part because expats must still obtain exit permits to leave the country for any reason.

Additionally, the text of Law No. 21 of 2015 on the entry, exit, and residence of expatriates states that an automated system was to be set up under the Ministry of Interior to grant exit permits.

Jiseon Shin/Flickr

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

However, officials are now saying foreigners will still need to ask their employers for permission to leave the country.

That said, a grievance committee has been set up to hear complaints from those whose bosses refuse to grant a permit.

Meanwhile, while it is now easier for some people to switch jobs, the no objection certificate requirement has not been abolished.

Instead, only workers on fixed-term contracts can now change jobs after their contract is completed without an NOC.

Those on open-ended contracts must work for five years before being able to do so. And all foreigners would need labor ministry approval before taking up new employment.

Qatar Airways/Flickr

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

Other reforms include requiring all job contracts to be approved by the labor ministry before a work visa can be granted.

This will help address the problem of contract substitution. This is when a migrant is promised one set of terms regarding his employment, but tricked/forced into accepting another when he arrives in Qatar.

Finally, the penalty for holding employees’ passports has been raised to QR25,000 a worker. QNA called this one of the toughest fines in the region.

However, Article 8 states that it is ok to hold passports if the employee grants his written permission. According to Amnesty, this loophole can easily be exploited by employers.

Looking to the future

The legislation comes into force more than two years after it was first proposed. This is in part because the draft law met with resistance from the local business community and Advisory Council.

The council discussed potential changes to the law during its regular meeting yesterday, but QNA did not specify what these were.

FC Barcelona/Facebook

FC Barcelona

Going forward, Amnesty has called on Qatar to reform the legislation so that it “unambiguously abolishes exit permits, completely bans passport confiscation, and frees workers from the requirement to get their employer’s permission to change jobs.”

It also urged FIFA to take action and not “remain shamefully ambivalent to the plight of workers in Qatar.”

Finally, as FC Barcelona arrives in Doha to play in a friendly match this evening, Amnesty asked the team to speak up for human rights.

“Players and clubs cannot live in a bubble,” Lynch said.

Thoughts?

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

Jidhu Jose/Flickr

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

Foreigners who move to Qatar will have more time to process their residency permits when the new sponsorship law takes effect in three weeks.

Instead of seven days as stipulated in the current law on expatriates’ entry, departure, residence and sponsorship, expats will get 30, a senior official said.

Law No. 21 of 2015 will come into effect on Dec. 13 after being approved by the Emir last October.

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

Qatar Airways/Flickr

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

It is expected to make it easier for some residents to change jobs and leave the country.

However, the law has drawn mixed reactions.

This is because many people will still need to get No Objection Certificates (NOCs) before they can change jobs and exit permits before leaving Qatar.

Over the last month, officials have been holding briefing sessions with companies to explain how the new law will work in practice. However, few of these details have been shared publicly yet.

But speaking to Al Raya this week, the director of the search and follow-up department at the Ministry of Interior (MOI) did outline some of the changes.

More time

With regards to processing RPs, expats will now have 30 days to start the paperwork, Brig. Abdulla Jabir Al-Libdah said.

This is in accordance with Article 10 of the new law.

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

Mohamad Nuski/Flickr

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

Failure to begin the RP process in time could result in a fine of up to QR10,000, Article 40 states.

Chapter five of the new law also includes new rules about transferring jobs while in Qatar.

Under Article 21, expats on an open-ended contract will not need their sponsor’s permission to change jobs once they’ve worked for five years.

And those on fixed-term contracts will no longer need to get an NOC to change jobs once their agreement is finished.

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

BunchandBrock Law

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

However, any expat must seek the Ministry of Administrative Development, Labor and Social Affairs’ permission to change jobs.

Currently, an employee needs to wait at least two years to join a new company in Qatar if their existing employer refuses to give an NOC.

It remains unclear whether new contracts will be issued next month or if the rules will apply to existing ones.

Al-Libdah only said the new law would “bring a balance in the relationship between the employer and the worker, according to the mutually binding work contract.”

Leaving the country

The language of the new law omits the word kafeel – sponsor – and instead refers to the employer as “the person who licensed you to come into the country.”

While the exit permit will still exist under the new law, expats will no longer arrange this with their sponsor, but instead must apply to the MOI at least three days before their planned departure.

Nevertheless, the employer still has to give their permission before the expat can leave.

For illustrative purposes only

Brian Candy/Flickr

For illustrative purposes only

 

If the exit visa is denied by the employer and/or the ministry, the employee can appeal their case to the Foreign Nationals Exit Grievances Council, according to Article 7.

Meanwhile, there’s just eight days to go until the MOI’s amnesty period for undocumented workers comes to an end on Dec. 1.

Amnesty

Al-Libdah said he expected to see a rise in the number of people applying to leave the country over the next week.

The official told Al Raya that uptake for the amnesty “exceeded all expectations, especially at the beginning” of the period, which was announced on Sept. 1.

Workers waiting at the Search & Follow Up Department on Salwa Road in September.

Aparajita Mukherjee / Doha News

Workers waiting at the Search & Follow Up Department on Salwa Road in September.

Expats living here illegally can leave Qatar without penalties if they bring the necessary paperwork to the Search and Follow Up department before Nov. 30.

To take advantage of the amnesty, they must have:

  • A valid passport or travel documents from the embassy;
  • A plane ticket or booking; and
  • An ID card or copy of their entry visa.

The law in Arabic is here, and an unofficial English translation is here.

How are you expecting the new law to affect you? Thoughts?

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

Chantelle D'mello / Doha News

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

With reporting from Riham Sheble

Changes to Qatar’s kafala sponsorship law will come into effect by year-end as planned, a senior official from the Ministry of Interior has confirmed.

Several local media outlets said last month that the reforms were being accelerated and would take effect in October. However, a government officials told Doha News at the time that this was incorrect.

This week, the Peninsula quoted Capt. Abdullah Khalifa Al Muhannadi of the General Directorate of Border Passport and Expatriate Affairs as reiterating plans to implement the new law in mid-December.

The changes

The new rules were approved by the Emir in October, and should make it easier for some expats to leave the country or change jobs.

One of the key changes in the new law is that expats will apply to the government – rather than their sponsor – for an exit permit.

Sponsors will have an opportunity to object to an individual leaving the country, but applicants will be able to appeal a decision to refuse an exit permit.

Similarly, expats who finish fixed contracts will now need the permission of the government – rather than consent from their sponsor, as is the case now – to take up another job.

The changes have drawn a mixed reaction. In a report earlier this year, the International Labour Organization said:

“(The new sponsorship law) still places restrictions on the possibility of workers to leave the country or to change employers and would prevent workers who might be victims of abusive practices from freeing themselves from these situations.”

Qatar officials, however, argue that the changes will help protect the rights of foreign workers here.

For several years, the country has used its plans for reforms to deflect criticism of its human rights record in international forums.

Speaking last week at the Chatham House policy institute in London, a 2022 World Cup organizer said the new law was of “most importance.”

Hassan Al-Thawadi – the secretary-general of Qatar’s Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy – reportedly said it would abolish the kafala system by “replacing it with a contractual agreement between employer and employee.

Thoughts?