You have reached the main content

Qatar Shura Council calls for reintroducing exit permits for domestic workers, threatening to undo reforms

On June 26, 2024

Qatar’s Shura Council has suggested reintroducing exit permits for domestic workers, though it has rephrased the practice as ‘obtaining employer approval’ at least five days before departure.

According to a press release by the state news agency QNA, the measures “would compel domestic workers to submit leave or final departure through the ‘Metrash’ application to the employer within a minimum of five working days, to obtain the necessary approval for their request, as they are not permitted to leave without obtaining prior approval, and domestic workers are entitled to appeal to the relevant authorities in case the mentioned request is not approved.”

If the motion is accepted and the recommendations are implemented, it would be a serious setback for the reform process in Qatar, which claims to have abolished the Kafala system. The Council has also put forward other measures that are aimed at restricting domestic workers’ mobility and other rights.

Since reforms in 2020, domestic workers have not required an exit permit to leave the country. The Ministry of Labour’s Know Your Rights booklet states the law and clarifies the rights as stated below:

The Law


Domestic workers shall have the right to leave the country temporarily, or to depart definitely from the country during the validity of their employment contract. The worker shall inform the employer of his/ her desire at least 72 hours in advance.

Your Right

You no longer need an exit permit to leave Qatar. You should however, inform your employer about your plans to leave the country at least 72 hours in advance. You can do this verbally or in writing.

Existing regulations and practices focus extensively on domestic workers who leave their employers – “runaway” or “escape” or “abscond.”  The additional measures proposed by the Shura Council reinforce this fixation. They include:

  • Requiring workers who “escape”, or those who harbour or employ them, to bear the cost of their repatriation, if the employer has reported them as absconding
  • Preventing workers reported as absconded from transfer their sponsorship
  • Establishing an insurance system to protect employers from the “financial implications” of workers escaping
  • Increasing penalties on both domestic workers who run away and those who help them do so
  • Increasing supervision of “places that could offer employment to this category, whether in private jobs, hourly work, live-in arrangements, hotels, or restaurants”

Though domestic workers have been legally allowed to change jobs at any point of contract since the 2020 reforms, in practice job change is impossible for most who work in extreme isolation. Many workers lack an off-day or permission to leave the household, and who may not have access to communication – all factors essential to facilitate the process. This often means leaving their place of employment — ‘absconding’ — as the only option for workers unsatisfied or abused by their employers.

The Shura Council’s preoccupation with workers ‘escaping’ reflects the attitude of employers who presume they have bought the worker, rather than hired their services.

Absconding laws that criminalise workers who leave their employers, as MR has previously reported, affect women and domestic workers the worst. These recommendations do not hold employers to account and show no understanding of the reasons workers typically leave households.

[…] the sheer criminality of intent is most stark in absconding charges, with Gulf states taking extra effort to make it as easy as possible to use and misuse.

The Shura Council’s deliberation follows a report submitted by the Internal and External Affairs Committee, in response to citizens raising their concerns and displeasure on the critical labour reforms that were rolled out in 2020. In a country where unions and any kind of organising is prohibited, workers remain unrepresented, while the might of citizens is channelled through the Shura Council, among other means. The Council is an advisory and legislative body comprising 45 members, 30 of whom are elected.

This is not the first time the Shura Council has weighed in with extremely regressive recommendations to labour regulations, some of which have been carried out to an extent. In 2021, Qatar introduced the need for a signed resignation letter that became a de facto ‘No Objection Certificate,’ undermining the law that promises job mobility for migrant workers. Even at the time of passing the domestic worker law in 2017, the Shura Council had debated its merits. Several members resisted the best practices put forward, citing, in particular, the financial burden placed on Qatari citizens now required to provide end of service benefits and paid leave. The minimum wage at that point had been QR750 (US$200), a minuscule percentage of the average Qatari per capita income.

Other labour reforms have also been rolled-back in response to employers’ complaints. In 2022, Qatar introduced a nine-month probation period between recruitment agent and employer, which made it more difficult for domestic workers to change jobs during the period, though officials claimed this long probation would not affect domestic workers.

Women domestic workers are among the most at-risk and marginalised of all migrant workers in the GCC states, including Qatar. However, states and citizens resist expanding labour protections for them, as while domestic workers are seen as an essential part of the household, they are also considered a commodity that has been paid for.