The practice of withholding the passports of migrant workers is still rife among employers in the Middle East, according to this recent post by blogger and M-R.org reader Sreekrishnan. Construction workers and maids are routinely forced to hand over their passports to their employer when they start a new job, which makes it virtually impossible for workers to leave the country or move to another job if their employer is negligent or exploitative.
Sreekrishnan draws are attention to the message from the Home Office on the back of Indian passports, which expressedly forbids their confiscation or possession by anyone but the holder:
This Passport is the property of the Government of India, any communication received by holder from the Passport Authority regarding this Passport, including demand for its surrender, should be complied with immediately.... It should be in the custody either of the holder or of a person authorised by the holder. It must not be altered or mutilated in any way. Loss, theft or destruction of Passports should be immediately reported to the nearest Passport Authority in India or (if the holder is abroad) to the nearest Indian Mission and to the Local Police.
Similarly, the practice of witholding passports from employees is clearly forbidden by the laws of the UAE. According to UAE advocate Mohamed Ebrahim al Shaiba:
The law prevents the employer from retaining passports on the basis that it is a document related to the person and no one should retain it except the competent judge if necessary. There is also an earlier decision by the Minister of Interior that prevents companies from retaining passports
Source: Gulf News 'Ask The Law' 13 June 2008
Sreekrishnan, an Indian national who has spent many years living and working in Sharjah and Dubai, believes that it is high time that the expatriate communities of the Middle East became aware of the scandal of passport intimidation. The issue was drawn to his attention when his wife's passport was confiscated by her employer in Sharjah. His attempts to seek help from the Indian Embassy in Abu Dhabi were unsuccessful, and he believes that apathy on the part of diplomatic missions representing labour-sending countries is partly to blame for the problem.
Be sure to check out Sreekrishnan's full blog article, which contains research and sources on the topic of illegal passport retention.