Wednesday 26 February 2020 (UAE)

Employers keeping workers passports in Dubai and UAE

Employers keeping workers' passports in Dubai and UAE

Passport retention and confiscation is against the law in UAE - companies, sponsors, government departments, employers keeping employees' and workers' passports in Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Sharjah and UAE. Is it legal or illegal in the UAE?

Employers keeping passports in UAE

Why do employers in the UAE want to keep employee passports?

Comments in the press about employers in Dubai and UAE keeping passports

What to do if your employer demands to keep your passport or does not return it upon request?

If you read this before you sign a contract in the UAE, make a point of asking your future employer what their policy is on retention of employee passports. If they say they keep them, then at least they're being clear. You can then try to negotiate otherwise, or look for another job in the UAE. If the employer says they hand them back to the employees after visa processing, don't believe them unless you have very good reason to, and try and at least get something in writing to support what they say.

  1. Before you do anything, at least decide what you want. Justice, or your passport back? The two outcomes overlap but are not the same, and remember that in the UAE (well, any country to a greater or lesser extent), life isn't fair. So decide what's most important to you first.
  2. Then try to figure out the real reason why your company, employer, boss, or sponsor is keeping your passport. It is possible that the company does it as a matter of course because "everybody does it," not because of any malicious reason. We accept that this is unlikely but sometimes situations are more easily resolved when one gives the offending party the impression that you think their motives are better than they really are, and that is only really likely to be the case for small companies where you are able to easily talk to the top boss directly.
  3. At least try and ask politely for your passport to be returned, or why your employer wants to keep it. Probably a waste of time if the company is deliberately and knowingly flouting the law (most are).
  4. You could try pointing out that your passport is the property of your government and you are responsible for its safekeeping. Again, probably a waste of time for most companies but you should probably still go through the motions.
  5. Contact your embassy or consulate to report that your passport is being withheld by an unofficial body without your consent. Chances are the embassy or consulate will be unhelpful, and try to dismiss you and/or do nothing about it since they usually want to take the path of least resistance. It's easy to ignore a handful of complaints. Harder if every one of their citizens complains.
  6. Contact the UAE Ministry of Labour to file a complaint about your employer/sponsor. Again, they may not do much, but that seems to be changing as time goes on, and depending on how much wasta your employer has. A risk here is that your employer might or will know about your complaint and react by making life unpleasant and/or firing you. If that is a real fear, then it might be wise to contact a lawyer first before complaining to the Ministry of Labour.
  7. Instead of contacting the MOL, or your embassy/consulate, you could just say that you will do that. But as a general rule, don't make empty threats ... er ... promises. If you have no intention of doing so, and your employer calls your bluff, then you have ended up putting yourself in a much weaker position regarding your employment.
  8. If you get this far without seeing your passport, you're probably a bit stuck, along with a large proportion of workers in the UAE, at least until higher authorities really do something significant to force employers to return employee passports. You can try contacting a lawyer to help you fight to get your passport back, but bear in mind, as with any situation when an employee annoys their employer, a possible outcome is that you will either wind up doing unpleasant work or lose your job in an unpleasant way.

Ways some people might try and keep their passport in the UAE

Note that the consequences of following any of these courses of action are unpredictable. You might get your passport back (or keep it if you have it); or you might lose your job; or your employer might find a reason to file a complaint about you with the labour department, the police, or both; or your employer might try to fine you (Sharjah Airport Free Zone is one example of an employer that does that); or something else. The list below is not advice, legal or otherwise, and we take no responsibility for anything that happens as a result of you trying any of the following actions, or any variation of them.

Stories employers tell to persuade employees to hand over passports

Last update Monday 30-Jun-2014. Page development 1H 2T 3D 4L 5C.
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