Our culture columnist takes readers' questions on what the UAE has to offer tourists and whether an employer can keep a worker's passport.
Ask Ali: Reasons to visit the UAE and keeping passports
Dear Ali: Why should I visit the UAE? What makes it so special? KR, UK
Dear KR: The UAE is in many ways a unique place that is worth visiting. The UAE is one the youngest countries on the Arabian Peninsula, yet within its almost 41 years of existence has become the most highly developed country in the region. It is a truly Arabic and Islamic state, but visitors and foreign residents can enjoy the utmost freedom and will find infrastructure and service that is equal to developed industrial states.
The UAE combines in a very unique way tradition and modernity. With the local dresses of the nationals and other Gulf Arabs, the countless mosques all over the country and the generally modest way of dealing with each other, the Islamic and tribal traditions of the country are always perceptible. At the same time, the hotels, restaurants, sports, cultural and recreational facilities available are world-class and represent the latest style and fashion. Abu Dhabi, the capital, is home to one of the largest and most visited mosques in the world. Few places on Earth have a higher density of five-star hotels than Dubai, with the tallest building in the world next to one of the largest shopping malls in the world.
The country shows its success and ambitions, yet just a few minutes away from the modern buzz, untouched nature in the desert and the amazing beaches with white sand and azure waters offer perfect places to relax and rewind. Add to this year-round sunshine, one of the lowest crime rates worldwide and a multinational society, it would be hard to find a reason not to visit the UAE. It's a land of so much opportunity, bringing hope to so many people from around the world. We have more than 200 nationalities all living and working together in the UAE in harmony and all speaking the same language, which is respect.
Dear Ali: It has been more than a month since I came to work in the UAE on an employment visa, and despite having asked a few times to have my passport back, my employer is still keeping it. I haven't even been able to apply for water and electricity or register my car because my original passport is not with me. HR seems to avoid me and they give me excuses. Is it actually legal to keep somebody's passport like that? EZ, Abu Dhabi
Dear EZ: As is stated in the UAE labour law, your employer is not permitted to keep your passport. The only occasion in which your company can ask for your passport is when the HR department is dealing with your visa. Since you mentioned that you joined the company more than a month ago, your residence visa should be completed and you should have received your passport back.
Unfortunately, with some companies it is still a common practice to retain employees' passports. In some cases this practice might be executed in good faith and with the intention of safeguarding the documents. In other cases it may be done to try and prevent staff from abandoning their jobs.
Regardless of the employers' intention, it is not permitted in either case. It is perfectly fine if an employer keeps staff passports in a safe, if this is mutually agreed upon by the staff and the employer. Even in this case, the staff should have easy access to their documents upon request. I would recommend you ask your employer once again for your passport, preferably in writing. If you still don't get it handed over, you would then be able to take legal steps and go to a police station to file a report against your employer and demand your passport back.