Holding passport of employee is illegal

Passport retention policy

Can employer keep employee passport? NO! Because holding passport in UAE is illegal.

As a matter of fact, UAE employers detaining employees’ passports could be jailed and fined up to 20,000 AED!

The UAE government officials have repeatedly stated that employer should not retain an employee’s passport.

Passport retention by employers in UAE is definitely illegal

A passport is technically the property of the government that issued it and there’s always wording to this that can be found written in each passport.

And mostly you’d find it in all of passports, saying: “This passport is the property of the Government of [The passport holder’s country]

Actually, the passport should be only in the custody of either the holder or of a person authorized by the holder, and each passport holder is responsible for its safekeeping.

While we all have to hand our passports over to authorized persons in order to obtain visas, we are not supposed to hand them over to unauthorized people.

That includes employers (apart from for affixing visas).

In other words…

Holding passport of employee is illegal

Ministry of Human Resources & Emiratisation has literally advised that “retaining workers’ passport also amounts to forcible work in violation of the International Labour Organization (ILO) Convention on the Abolition of Forced Labour, to which the UAE is a signatory”.

In addition, it’s not new that the UAE Ministry of Interior issued a decree saying: “As the passport is a personal document and as the law obliges its owner to keep and show when required by the governmental authorities, it is not allowed for any party to detain the passport except by the official parties with a judicial order and according to the law. Consequently it will be considered as an illegal action to detain the passport in UAE except by the governmental parties.”

 

So, how to get my passport from my employer?

The offence carries a jail sentence and a fine of up to AED 20,000. If an employer refuses to return your passport, you can register a case against them at the local labor office and even file a police case.

Is your employer asking for passport?

When this happens, you simply tell them that as of UAE labour law holding passport of employee is illegal. Employer can only hold passports for visa-related concerns (like applying for a new visa, renewing, or cancelling the visa).

And thereafter, they should return your passport to you after stamping. It is your duty to keep your passport in safe custody, and not your employer’s.

Can employer hold passport after cancellation?

No, employer can’t hold your passport after cancellation of visa. Employer can only hold it for a limited period it’s when they’re issuing, renewing or cancelling your visa.

Passport Retention by Employers in UAE

Actually, not just employers holding passports of employees, the question is:

is it legal to hold someone’s passport? NOT AT ALL!

Passport holding in UAE is technically illegal, although the practice of this is widespread among companies with large number of UAE expats.
Although it is okay to handover your passport to various authorities, you don’t have to handover your passport to unauthorized bodies. And, your employer is not an authorized body to retain your passport.

The passport is a personal document of its holder, and its final authority is the issuing government. It is an official document that certifies holders’ identity and citizenship allowing them to travel abroad under its protection. Therefore, it is more of a personal document, to be kept in possession of the holder.

On the other hand, if you choose to give your passport for safekeeping, then there is nothing illegal about it. But, we advise you to check with your embassy or consulate if you are permitted to do that, first.

The employers usually say that the reason behind retaining employee passport is for safekeeping. But, often employers retain employee’s passport because companies want to have control over them, and to reinforce the authoritative nature of employer-employee relationship.

 

Legally, your company has no right to hold your passport, and retaining employee passport is against UAE Labor Law.

The laws in UAE do not entitle the employer to keep the employee’s passport for whatsoever reason.

According to Advocates and Legal Consultants, passports shall not be submitted to anyone unless upon order of Public Prosecution or Court only.
A case of passport confiscation would cost between Dh.5000 and Dh.10,000 for the employer. The government will not tolerate companies that are holding passport.

Holding passport also amounts to forcible work in violation of International Labour Organization (ILO) Convention on the Abolition of Forced Labour, to which the UAE is a signatory. Employers who fail to give workers their passports on request are in breach of trust. The offence carries imprisonment of upto three years and/or fine amounting to Dh.20,000 or more,” quotes UAE Ministry of Labour Legal Department.

Some precautions that are worth considering to avoid retention of passport by employers:

  • Ask your future employer about their “policy on holding passport” prior to signing the job contract. If they have a policy of retaining the passport, you can negotiate with them or even look for another job. On the other hand, if the employer say they would return the passports back to employees after visa processing, DO NOT believe them until you have a good reason to do so.
  • If your employer is currently holding your passport, request them politely to return your passport. If they didn’t do anything about it, let them know that it is illegal to retain passports.
  • They’re still holding your passport? Consider contacting your embassy or consulate to report holding passport by an unauthorized body.
  • No response from your embassy? Contact the UAE Ministry of Labour to file a complaint about your employer. However, the employer will know about your complaint and there are big chances that the may react to it in an unpleasant manner. If you are uncomfortable about facing such a scenario, you may contact a lawyer before complaining to Ministry of Labour .
  • Before contacting your Embassy or UAE Ministry of Labour, you can tell your employer about your intentions to take it legally. But, as a general rule, do not make empty threats or promises.
  • Another strategy worth trying to get your passport from your employer is to wait till you travel abroad, as most employers will then be ready to handover passport without fuss. Else, organize a weekend trip to Oman or similar place.
  • Try to get a letter from your embassy saying that unauthorized people or organizations should not hold your passport.
  • You could deposit your passport with your embassy or consulate for safekeeping and get a receipt.

 

As an employee you need to be aware of the below:

In case the employer retains the passport and refuses to give it back, you can approach the nearest police station, and the company will have to handover the passport there.

A 2002 decree explicitly states that it will be considered as an illegal action to detain the passport of employee in UAE, except by the governmental parties. In case of retaining passports, there will be suitable punishment by the law in UAE. However, the law did not specify which agency should enforce the rule, although employees can file a complaint with Labour Ministry.

Finally:

Although with the proof and legal warnings that keeping employee passports is illegal, expatriates still need a job. It is a sad fact that most employers in UAE are still holding passport.

If this is the case, and you desperately need the job, get a signed document from employer stating that they’re holding your passport, and the reason for holding it.

The document should also mention that they assure you about returning it immediately and at any time during the employment.

 

4 Comments

  1. Is this law include s domestic helpers.. Housemaid?

    1. Hi Rixz, Yes it does and it should. As a matter of fact, the domestic staff is not covered by UAE Labor Law, but UAE government officials have stated that no employer should retain ANY employee’s passport. To quote UAE Ministry of Interior, the words used: “As the passport is a personal document and as the law obliges its owner to keep and show when required by the governmental authorities, it is not allowed for any party to detain the passport except by the official parties”.

  2. What about the employees, who are in a position with financial responsibilities or handling cash?

    1. It still does not matter. Financial responsibilities or others. Bottom line is, passport belongs to the original holder and their country of origin only, and cannot be held as a guarantee by companies.

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