Doha, Qatar – Qatar’s amendment to the residency law to allow most migrant workers to leave the country without an exit visa has been welcomed as a “huge step” by the International Organization for Labour (ILO).
Qatar’s emir signed the new law on Tuesday, amending certain provisions to the existing law that required all migrant workers getting permission from their employers before leaving Qatar, said Minister of Administrative Development, Labour and Social Affairs Issa al-Nuaimi in a statement.
With this new law, migrant workers covered by the Labour Code would be able to leave Qatar without having to obtain such a permit, the statement added.
“The adoption of this law is another step in our continued drive to provide decent work for all migrant workers in Qatar and to ensure their protection,” al-Nuaimi added.
The amendment is a significant step as part of reforms that Qatar is carrying out, according to Head of the ILO Project Office in Qatar Houtan Homayounpour.
“This is a huge step taken by the Qatar government. It’s a big deal,” Homayounpour told Al Jazeera on Wednesday. “The workers are now free to leave anytime while respecting the contractual agreements.
“This will not cover all the workers, including domestic workers and those working in the military. Qatar already has a law on domestic workers and we’re working closely on getting a ministerial decree to grant them the same rights.”
Employers in Qatar can still submit names of workers for whom a No-Objection Certificate (NOC) would be required before granting them permission to leave the country, according to the statement, which added that it needed justifications based on the nature of the work.
Qatar is one of the wealthiest countries in the world but its treatment of foreign workers from countries such as India, Nepal and Bangladesh has come under scrutiny as it spends billions of dollars on building new infrastructure in the run-up to hosting the 2022 football World Cup.
A work-sponsorship system, known as Kefala, required all foreign workers to obtain their employer’s consent to travel abroad or switch jobs, a measure that rights groups said leaves workers prone to exploitation and forced labour.
But with the government doing away with the need for an exit visa for most workers, Homayounpour said that “the power imbalance between workers and employers was starting to be addressed”.
“This now eliminates 50 percent of the problem. It was the workers’ fundamental right to leave when they wished to. If they find themselves in a problematic situation or a family emergency, or simply want to go on a vacation, they can leave,” he said.
“And with regards to spreading the word, the government and ourselves, are undertaking many activities in order to raise the awareness of workers and employers on this important change to the law.”