Has Qatar abolished exit visa for migrant workers?

After ensuring safety and protection of migrant workers, now there is no need to get an exit visa to leave the country. The decision may drastically impact the number of workers staying in Qatar since the employer has almost no control over the ‘workers’.

Qatar

In the latest development, Qatar said on Thursday that it had scrapped restrictions on leaving the country for nearly all migrant workers as part of reforms in the run-up to the 2022 World Cup.

The measure removes exit visas for hundreds of thousands of domestic workers left out of earlier reforms – mainly from Asian nations such as Nepal, India and the Philippines – whom rights groups said were left open to abuse by being excluded. Earlier the Western media and Rights’ organizations were accusing Qatar of exploiting the poor workers from the developing world.

“Now a domestic worker has the right to enter and exit the country without their employer’s permission. We are working on a complete system of [labor] legislation, labor ministry under-secretary Mohamed al-Obaidly told AFP news agency.

The announcement came after Human Rights Watch published its annual report on Tuesday, saying Qatari reforms “have not gone far enough, and implementation has been uneven”.

Read More: Pakistan insists on workers’ rights for Qatar World Cup

Unions and activists have documented labor exploitation, dangerous conditions, and deaths of workers building stadiums and infrastructure for two football events – both the 2018 World Cup in Russia and the upcoming event in Qatar. “It’s a great milestone in the ambitious labor reform agenda of the state of Qatar,” Houtan Homayounpour, head of the Qatari office of the International Labour Organization (ILO), a United Nations agency, told Al Jazeera.

Qatar in 2018 eliminated exit visas for many foreign migrant workers. But the reform did not apply to domestic workers, government and public institution staff, oil and gas sector workers, and those employed at sea and in agriculture.

Homayounpour said that employers will no longer have the opportunity to tell workers “yes” or “no” and that “they [workers] can get up and go to the airport and leave”.

 Kafala abolished

The International Labor Organisation (ILO), a UN employment rights agency which has been working on reforms with the Qatar government since 2017, said the Gulf country’s ministers had agreed to end Kafala and also introduce “a non-discriminatory minimum wage, the first in the Middle East”.

It is important to understand that Kafala ties workers to so-called sponsorship by their employer, meaning they cannot move jobs or leave the country without the employer’s approval. Human rights groups have campaigned for years to have kafala abolished across the Gulf, whose countries use millions of low-paid immigrant workers mostly from the Indian subcontinent.

Read More: Qatar Denies Stopping Workers from Leaving When They Want

FIFA’s decision to locate the 2022 World Cup in Qatar has hugely increased scrutiny, and the Qatar government ultimately responded by signing formal cooperation with the ILO promising to implement improvements.

“Cabinet has adopted new legislation related to a new law for minimum wage and also a new regulation to facilitate labor transfer to a new employer… and a draft law to abolish exit permits,” Labour Minister Yousuf Mohamed al-Othman Fakhroo said at an event in Doha.

 

Qatar and its labor laws have been under criticism ever since the country was named the host of the 2022 FIFA World Cup. The government in Qatar has repeatedly promised to ensure the safety of workers.

Some western media outlets claimed that in Qatar migrant laborers are being forced to work in ‘searing temperatures which is a dangerous and gross violation of fundamental human rights. A report published in The Guardian points out that “every year hundreds of workers – many young men between 25 and 35 years old – die while working in Qatar. The majority of these deaths are attributed to cardiovascular causes or “natural death” by the Qatari authorities”.

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Similarly, according to recent, Amnesty International  “hundreds of migrant workers” have been forced to give up on “justice” and return home “penniless” since March 2018.

Interestingly, Qatar is viewing sports and games not only events but an opportunity to expand its tourism industry with an intention to introduce several tourist destinations in the country. The tourism sector, in Qatar, is offering new avenues to the investors and businesses with remarkable growth which has reportedly reached 11% as of August 2019.

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