Revival of talks on two-year visa ban for migrant workers’ re-entry into Oman renews hopes for stranded and exploited workers

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Oct 31 2015

Last week the Times of Oman, quoting Ministry of Manpower’s advisor Said bin Naser Al Sadi,  reported that the ministry is looking at a possible change in the two-year visa ban.

The ban is part of the country’s Omanization program, which aims to boost local employment rates by reducing the expatriate population. Over the years, the program has included measures that unfairly burdened migrant workers, with questionable success as to its long-term goals.

Last year, Oman’s police announced that no employment visas would be issued after July 1, 2014 to any expatriate who has worked in the Sultanate within the last two years. However, those possessing a no-objection certificate (NOC) from their existing employers were allowed to return to Oman to join their new employers.

“Revival of talks on lifting the two-year visa ban is a promising move. Thousands of workers are stranded and suffering due to the two-year visa ban. Employers are using this as a tool to exploit workers. Bonded labour system has become more harmful after the implementation of two-year visa ban,” Shaji Sebastin, a Muscat-based Indian social worker, told

“Majority of the employers have stopped increment, bonus, promotion and other perks for their employees. They know that workers will not leave the job because of the two-year visa ban. If the workers strain the relations, then the employer can deny NOC for him scuttling the chances for him to return to Oman,” Shaji added.

Since the NOC became a requirement for migrants to return to oman, many companies are demanding money for NOC. Without a NOC, expatriate employees cannot leave their jobs to join a different company in the Sultanate, even if they have completed their contract. The NOC has always been amongst the restrictive components of the Kafala system, but Oman’s recent policy has rendered it an even greater tool of exploitation.

Depending on the job status, the amount employers demand for a NOC ranges from $750 to $6,000 USD. Shahi added,

“This is all because workers are tied up in this kafala system. To join and to leave workers are compelled to pay money. It is a sad situation.”

A legal advisor in Muscat said that providing NOC for a worker is up to employer's’ discretion.

“NOC is not a right for an employee. A worker cannot approach the court getting a NOC,” the legal advisor, who declined to be named, said.

According to government statistics, there are around 1.8 million migrant workers in Oman. Out of these, more than 90% are are unable to change jobs because of the two-year visa ban. 

“Even if there is a better offer, we are not able to leave the existing company. There is not career growth at all in Oman. None of the companies are providing NOC. And some those who are ready to provide it are asking for money. There is no hope at all,” Suresh Kumar, a senior salesperson in a automotive industry in Muscat, told MR.

“Moreover, these kind of unfriendly rules are stopping experienced hands from coming to Oman. Skilled guys won’t wish to come to Oman and get trapped,” Suresh added.

In June this year the Oman Chamber of Commerce and Industry (OCCI), Oman’s Trade Union and the Ministry of Manpower discussed the possibility of reducing the two-year ban to one year and reforming the NOC requirement. However, no changes have yet been announced

The UAE imposed a similar two-years ago, but lifted it after only six months.  

“These kinds of bans will affect the market badly. When we impose such bans, we should also think of the situation that whether nationals can take over Oman without the help of migrant workers immediately. We know that it won’t happen. So, when we implement such moves, we should think twice and have to do proper homework,” Anwar Mohammed, a Muscat-based businessman, said.

Stranded workers and those denied their salary are affected most.

“Not only they are being left in lurch, but also leaving the country through an exit visa without the cooperation of their employer will stop them from returning to Oman,” the legal advisor said.

Citing the oil price dip and shortage of projects, thousands of migrant workers are stranded in Oman without any idea of what to do.

As both workers and businessmen hope, the revival of re-entry talks may soon lift the ban,  partially.

“Even if it is partially lifted, it would be a blessing for us. We hope that government takes an appropriate decision soon,” Sini added.

Advancing the rights of migrant workers throughout the Middle East