For more than a year Qatar has been under scrutiny from the international community particularly due to the football World Cup 2022 migrant workforce. The country’s controversial exit visa system was under question and the government since then has made several reforms to improve it.
The Long-awaited reform which requires foreign workers to obtain their bosses’ permission to exit the country – came into force on Sunday.
According to the Kafala system if a worker quits his job without permission, the employer has the legal ability to cancel his visa, making him an illegal resident overnight; if he tries to leave the country without first getting an exit permit, he’ll be stopped at the borders and possibly imprisoned.
Hence the Qatar government passed a legislation stating that :
“Law No. 13 of 2018… regulating the entry, exit and residency of expatriates is being implemented starting today,” the interior ministry announced on Twitter.
Qatar’s sponsorship system was compared to a modern- slavery scheme and this month the authorities have announced that they would scrap the kafala or sponsorship system.
Though this is a big step for the working community under the new law, all but 5% of a company’s workforce—reportedly those in the most senior positions—can leave without prior permission from employers.
Those not allowed to leave Qatar “for any reason” can file a complaint to the Expatriate Exit Grievance Committee that will “take a decision within three working days”, the ministry said.
The government is yet to announce who qualifies under the 5% as many labourers continue to remain perplexed if they come under this rule. Most of them took to social media channels and goverment websites to verify if they can take leave or exit the country.
Vani Saraswathi, associate editor and director of projects with Migrant-Rights.org spoke in regards to the law and said the reform was “long overdue and welcome”,
But added the warning that “We have to be cautious about celebrating it as a huge development,” as “Passport confiscation is still rampant and the law also allows for employers to hold passports without the workers’ permission.”
She also noted that the law does not cover domestic workers, who are currently the most vulnerable.
There are some two million foreign workers in Qatar most of whom live in poverty. Combining their harsh work environment and non payment of below-the-industry standard wages many workers want to desperately leave the country in any condition.
Hence many reports state that the law to release migrant work force might be self-serving so Qatar doesn’t have to pay the wages as the economy is currently through a phase of self sustenance after severance of political ties with neighbouring countries.
“Migrant workers are at the bottom of the pay chain, and they pay the highest price when there are cash flow problems,” says Fabien Goa, a researcher with the Refugee and Migrants’ Rights team at Amnesty International.
Even if Qatar’s economy is able to weather this crisis as a whole, there are bound to be companies that will delay their projects, scale down operations, or shut down entirely.
The country’s business-owning citizens may not feel the pinch from these adjustments, but the ripple effects on migrant workers will be extensive.