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Qatar announces abolishment of the Kafala system (again)

On October 16, 2019

Qatar’s Minister of Administrative Development, Labour and Social Affairs (once again) announced the abolishment of the Kafala system today in Doha. Though details are still to come, an ILO press statement indicates that the exit visa will be eliminated (except for military personnel) and that all workers will be able to change their employers without their sponsor’s permission following a probationary period. The legislation is expected to come into force from January 2020.

According to the statement, “The elimination of the NOC requirement will allow workers to freely change employers following an initial probationary period. Should they wish to change employers during this period, the new employer would need to reimburse recruitment costs to the original employer.”

The mandatory reimbursement of recruitment costs in cases where worker leave during the probationary period raises several questions: Will recruitment costs of the first contract be made transparent and openly declared?  How else would the amount be determined? What steps will be taken to prevent illegal visa trading, and to ensure these costs are not passed on to the workers themselves?

The length of the probationary period has also not yet been released. Previously, workers could only change employers without permission once they completed their contract (or five years if a worker is on an unlimited contract). 

On exit permits, the ILO statement says: “[...] domestic workers; workers in government and public institutions; workers employed at sea and in agriculture; as well as casual workers are free to leave the country either temporarily or permanently without having to obtain the permission of their employers. This covers all workers not covered by Law No. 13 of 2018, which removed the requirement to obtain exit permits for most workers covered by the Labour Law.”

Qatar’s earlier reforms to the Kafala system included loosening restrictions on exiting the country and changing employers without a sponsor’s approval. However, these reforms still excluded a large number of workers – including all domestic workers – and were often less clearly applied than they appear.

One key matter to consider as details of the new immigration laws are released is whether or not migrants will be able to renew their own residence permits. Currently, only sponsors can renew residency permits, though workers are liable if the visa expires. Migrants with expired residency permits have an irregular status, incur fines and penalties, and face difficulty accessing benefits of Qatar’s other reforms – namely, leaving the country without an exit visa and changing employers.

Qatar had previously committed to allowing migrants to renew their own residence permits, but as of yet has not taken any public steps towards this pledge.

The minister also announced that non-discriminatory wages would be set by 2020. The temporary minimum wage is currently set at QR 760 (USD 200).