UAE employers detaining workers’ passports can be jailed and fined up to Dh20,000

The UAE government officials have repeatedly stated that no employer should retain an employee’s passport.

I am an Indian national living and working in Abu Dhabi and want to know if my employer is allowed to keep my passport. I have asked for it for personal reasons but they are ignoring my request and still holding on to it. What can I do? IS, Abu Dhabi

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. The standard wording in an Indian passport includes: “This passport is the property of the Government of India”, and also states, “This passport should be in the custody either of the holder or of a person authorised by the holder”. 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. The 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 has advised that “retaining workers’ passport also amounts to forcible work in violation of the International Labour Organization (ILO) 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 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 and even file a police case.

Keren Bobker is an independent financial adviser and Senior Partner 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.

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