UAE is a country considered to be a dream place to live in and work hard to fulfill dreams. Many people come to the UAE for work and business. Being expats, the passport is an important document of identity in a foreign land. Thus it remains the safest in our own hands. But many a time, the situation plays a different role than what is expected. Employers holding the passport of their employees is an illegal practice that many do, but it has always been prohibited by the law.
Does your company keep your passport in UAE?
When this question arises different answers are put forward in different circumstances. But legally your company has no rights to hold your passport and it is against the UAE Labour Law. In 2002, the UAE Ministry of Interior issued a decree which included the words, “as the passport is a personal document and as the law obliges its owners to keep and show when required by the governmental authorities, it is not allowed for any party to detain the passport except by official party with a judicial order and according to the law”.
It is normal to keep employee’s passport for official purposes but it does not mean they are legally permitted to retain the passport. There are some instances where employers do keep employees’ passports illegally.
Can an employer hold the passport of an employee?
It is very usual for employers in UAE to keep their employee’s passports even though the practice is illegal. In reality, employers can hold passports only for official purposes like applying for a new visa, renewing, or cancelling a visa. After completion of visa stamping, the employer must return the passport to the respective employee.
When can an employer keep custody of your passport?
Your employer is not an authorised body to hold your passport. It is your duty to keep your passport safe and not your employer’s. Here employee’s consent and will are very essential because holding a passport against his will and consent makes it illegal. But this practice is extensive within UAE companies because of the large number of expats in the organization.
Is it legally allowed to hold another person’s passport?
The passport is a personal asset or document of its holder but its final authority is the government that issues it. On the contrary, if an employee chooses to give his/her passport for safekeeping in the custody of the employer then it is not against the law.
This consent must be written and must specify that the passport will be returned by the employer to his employee whenever he is in need. The employer must mention a valid reason for holding the passport. If the employee is not willing to keep a passport with the employer then the employer must not hold the passport.
When and why employers can keep employee’s passports?
There are various reasons for an employer to keep an employee’s passport with them. ‘Safekeeping’ is the main reason employers give to employees for withholding the passport.
One of the reasons is due to mutual consent. When there is mutual consent between employer and employee for holding passport without any need of visa purpose for a longer period of time then it is not illegal and an employer is not committing any illegal act.
The employer has his own valid reasons for holding the expatriate employee’s passport. If an employer keeps custody of an employee’s passport, it can stop the employee from leaving the country in case he commits any wrongful act. That way employee can be held responsible for their acts.
Being the sponsor, the employers are held to be responsible in front of the government for employee’s wrongful acts. So employers can keep employees’ passports for security reasons.
Where to register concerns and complaints?
The employer can hold a passport only for administrative work. If your employer is holding your passport and not willing to return it to you then you must politely request him to return it.
After making a number of requests if the employer still holds the employee’s passport then he can immediately contact the embassy or consulate to report his complaint against the employer. Even you can take a letter from the embassy mentioning that an employer is unauthorized body to hold the passport. Another thing is you can keep your passport with the embassy and have a receipt for the same.
If no reasonable response comes from the embassy you must file your complaint to the UAE Ministry of labour against your employer. However, when an employer keeps an employee’s passport forcefully in his custody, an expatriate employee can go to court. The employee can release his passport from the local court.
It is an offense to hold someone else’s passport without that person’s consent. Therefore an employee can get his/her passport from the employer by filing a complaint against him in the local police station and local labour office. The offense is punishable by a jail sentence and a fine of up to AED 20,000. Verdicts have been issued by UAE courts against the employer where he has to return an employee’s passport and even pay court fees.
How can we avoid this issue?
Now we all are well aware of the rules and regulations, laws and conditions behind holding an employee’s passport by an employer. So to avoid this hustle, take a written letter from the employer mentioning the reason for holding the passport. Moreover, the employer should return your passport whenever you are in need. The letter must contain the stamp of your employer undersigned by an authorized signatory of the company.
With so many legal alarms and proofs that say withholding an employee’s passport is illegal, the practice still continues. It is a fact that most of the employers in the UAE are still holding passports. But when an act is illegal there are laws to protect expatriates’ interests. And if you are trapped in this kind of problem you can contact us for Legal Assistance.