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UAE’s compulsory mental health checks for domestic workers is an exercise in victim-blaming

On July 5, 2020

The Minister of Human Resources and Emiratisation (MOHRE) recently issued a decision that requires domestic workers to pass a mental health check and obtain a good-conduct certificate in order to enter and work in the UAE. The ruling was announced during the Federal National Council (FNC) session on 30 June 2020.

According to the Minister, Nasser Al Hamli, the new ruling is already on trial with domestic workers coming from Kenya and will gradually be extended to include domestic workers of other nationalities, noting that the UAE has signed agreements with 13 countries in this regard. 

The new ruling reflects - and perpetuates -  a perception of domestic workers as inherently prone to psychological issues and violence.

The nature of live-in domestic work is inherently exploitative, forcing workers into total isolation without any social or cultural activities that are critical for the well-being of any individual. In fact, there is evidence that domestic workers returning from Gulf states suffer from mental health issues and require help in their home countries.

Reflecting the criminalising discourse, Kifah Al Zaabi, a member of the FNC, said during the session, 

“There have been a number of crimes committed by foreign domestic workers due to psychological issues or criminal backgrounds…” 

Although the incidence of crimes committed by domestic workers is very low in the UAE, Al Zaabi insisted that “considering our secure and stable society, even if such a crime occurs once every five years, it will have a big impact.”

“We aim to reach zero crimes by domestic workers," she added. 

The new ruling and accompanying narrative ignores the fact that migrant domestic workers are disproportionately at the receiving end of physical, sexual and psychological violence by their sponsors. No mental or criminal checks are required for employers, who hold significant power over domestic workers. 

Migrant domestic workers are amongst the most vulnerable of migrant workers and the least protected; they are excluded from labour laws and subjected to wage theft, overwork and abuse which has been exacerbated since the COVID-19 crisis. 

UAE also permits visit visa holders to transfer to domestic work, and it is not clear how this will be applied in these cases.