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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 23 July 2018

'How can I get my passport back from my Abu Dhabi employer?'

The expat wants to return home but has been told to pay Dh3,800 to have the document returned

It is illegal for any employer to retain a passport, says Keren Bobker. Delores Johnson / The National
It is illegal for any employer to retain a passport, says Keren Bobker. Delores Johnson / The National

I have a query about my passport being illegally withheld. I want to go back to my home country but my employer, in a free zone in Abu Dhabi, is holding my passport and I do not want to pay them money to leave. They told me that I can resign if I pay them around Dh3,800. My manager actually terminated me verbally and this has prolonged my probation period for one-and-a-half months. It means I am still under probation. What action should I take to get my passport back? I have been waiting for my official termination letter for over one month even though I have been asking for confirmation, so I can get things sorted and leave. They are not being kind and try to humiliate me in front of my colleagues. GD, Abu Dhabi

It is illegal for any employer to retain a passport and so GD’s employer is breaking the law by retaining his. A passport is technically the property of the government that issued it and wording to this effect can be found in the small print in each passport. While we all have to hand our passports over to authorised bodies to obtain visas, individuals are not supposed to hand them over to unauthorised bodies and that includes to employers, apart from for affixing visas. UAE government officials have repeatedly stated that no employer should retain an employee’s passport. The legal department of the Ministry of Human Resources & Emiratisation (MoHRE) has advised that “retaining workers’ passport also amounts to forcible work in violation of the International Labour Organization Convention on the Abolition of Forced Labour, to which the UAE is a signatory”. In 2002, the Ministry of Interior issued a decree that said: “As the passport is a personal document and as the law obliges its owner to keep and show when required by the governmental authorities, it is not allowed for any party to detain the passport except by the official parties with a judicial order and according to the law. Consequently, it will be considered as an illegal action to detain the passport in UAE except by the governmental parties.” The offence carries a jail sentence and a fine of up to Dh20,000. If an employer refuses to return a passport, the individual can register a case against them at their local labour office but I would advise going directly to the police if it is required urgently.

The other issues here are the employer saying there is a fee for leaving the company, as well as failing to provide a proper termination letter. Under no circumstance is an employer permitted to pass on the costs of employing someone and this has been confirmed by the UAE Government on numerous occasions and also stated in Ministerial Order 52 of 1989, Article 6. If the company asks for payment a case should be registered with the MoHRE or at the local labour office.

It seems to me that GD is better off away from a company like this that treats employees so poorly and breaks multiple laws.

I got married a few months ago and now want to change my name on various accounts in the UAE to my married name. I have already changed my passport and ID card but now I need to deal with my bank accounts and the property that I own. I have been warned that this could be complicated and costly. Can you give me any information to make the process easier? KM, Dubai

It is obviously not uncommon for women to change their surname after marriage and it should not be a complicated process to change official documents and accounts although some organisations do make it harder than it needs to be.

To change a bank account, the main requirements will be a passport with the new name and a copy of the marriage certificate. Some banks will ask for an attested copy of a marriage certificate but if, as in this case, it can be demonstrated that the Government has accepted the change of name you may not need this.

To have a name changed on the title deeds of a property, the owner must go to Dubai Land Department, located on Baniyas Road in Deira, with their new passport showing their married name, the passport with the previous name, the marriage certificate, Emirates ID and the title deed relating to the property. The fee to make the change will be about Dh500. After this, the developer must be also notified as they will need to update their records. Some do not charge a fee but others will charge up to Dh2,000 for this process.

Keren Bobker is an independent financial adviser and senior partner with Holborn Assets in Dubai, with over 25 years’ experience. Contact her at keren@holbornassets.com. Follow her on Twitter at @FinancialUAE.

The advice provided in our columns does not constitute legal advice and is provided for information only.