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Qatar Risks Backsliding on Critical Labor Reforms

Shura Council Proposal to Reinstate Exit Permits Puts Domestic Workers at Greater Risk of Abuse

In a recent meeting, Qatar’s advisory Shura Council proposed the government adopt measures that would require domestic workers to obtain their employer’s permission before being allowed to leave the country. Workers would have to submit their leave or departure requests through the Ministry of Interior’s “Metrash” online portal at least five days ahead of their proposed date of departure. They would be allowed to appeal if their employer did not approve their request.

If the motion is accepted, Qatari authorities risk severely backtracking on their labor reforms introduced in 2020. Under these reforms, Qatar extended a 2018 reform that removed an exit permit requirement for migrant workers to leave the country to include domestic workers.

Excessive working hours © 2016 Rositsa Raleva for Human Rights Watch

Although a marked improvement, the 2020 reforms were far from perfect and still required domestic workers to inform employers about their wish to leave Qatar at least 72 hours in advance. This is a glaring flaw of the reform, especially for those in abusive or exploitative situations or who fear retaliation. Human Rights Watch stressed that abusive employers, after receiving notice of their employee’s intent to leave, could retaliate by confining the worker to the house or filing trumped-up criminal charges against them.

Instead of removing this notification requirement, the new Shura Council motion would make it even more difficult for domestic workers to leave the country and put them at greater risk of exploitation and abuse.

Additional measures proposed by the Shura Council would further penalize and endanger domestic workers, among them: making domestic workers who their employers have reported as “absconded,” or those housing or employing them, responsible for deportation expenses; increasing penalties against runaway domestic workers and those who provide them shelter and employment; and preventing workers reported as absconding from transferring their sponsorship.

The Qatari authorities should reject these recommendations and look to expand and improve on their 2020 reforms. International human rights law provides that “everyone has the right to leave any country.” Any restrictions can only be on a case-by-case basis, for a legitimate reason.

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