x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 25 November 2017

UAE domestic staff passports ‘must not be kept by sponsors’

Keren Bobker advises a resident who was told 'it is not a problem' if a maid's passport is held by her sponsor.

Keren Bobker advises on passport protocol for domestic workers. Delores Johnson / The National
Keren Bobker advises on passport protocol for domestic workers. Delores Johnson / The National

I recently accompanied a domestic worker to immigration to file a complaint for her friend who is a domestic worker in an abusive situation. While speaking to the immigration officer who was attending to us, I stated that the woman’s passport was taken by the employer. The immigration employee told us that it is “not a problem to keep a maid’s passport, we all do”. She added that if her own maid “wants hers, no problem, she can leave”. I said that as far as I understood, this was illegal according to UAE lawMS, Abu Dhabi

A passport is usually 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 employers. Domestic staff are not covered by UAE Labour Law, but UAE government officials have stated that no employer should retain an employee’s passport. The legal department of the Ministry of Labour has advised that “retaining workers’ passports also amounts to forcible work in violation of International Labour Organization Convention on the Abolition of Forced Labour, to which the UAE is a signatory”. 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 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.” The offence carries a jail sentence and a fine of up to Dh20,000.

Keren Bobker is an independent financial adviser with Holborn Assets in Dubai, with over 20 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