Private maid recruitment companies in the UAE can remain open as affiliates to government-run Tadbeer centres and work as "internal recruiters" if they follow specific guidelines.
Companies that do not meet this requirement have been closed or given until the end of next month to cease operations.
Last month, the Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratisation said all non-government maid hiring agencies would be closed by March to protect the rights of workers and more tightly regulate the industry.
Nada Omar, manager of Maidfinder.ae, a website that matches domestic workers with employers, said private companies were given three years to conform to the 2017 domestic workers law.
"Once Tadbeer came into the picture [in 2017], agencies were given grace period to either get a Tadbeer licence or shut down. By March, the government will close whoever is left without the proper licence," she said.
Her company secured Tadbeer affiliation two years ago for its database service. They assess maids in the country, give clients access to resumes and can secure a Tadbeer-approved residency visa.
Three options facing private agencies
A Tadbeer agent said private maid agencies were given three options: close down, switch from maid-recruitment to cleaning or other services, or affiliate with Tadbeer.
He said about 90 per cent of Tadbeer centres were previously private agencies.
These recruit workers from abroad or the UAE to Tadbeer but cannot deal directly with clients.
“Some of those agencies have existed for decades and they have thorough experience in finding and recruiting maids,” said the agent, who asked not to be named.
After the agency finds a worker, Tadbeer handles the clients and contracts.
"For one-year or more contracts, I am obliged to provide a two-year insurance for the client, in case the maid runs away, is no longer able to work or refuses to do her job,” the agent said.
UAE residents and Emiratis can also hire maids from within the country themselves before visiting a Tabdeer centre or immigration office to regularise the worker's visit visa or change the sponsorship of a housemaid's visa.
The National contacted the ministry to ask the criteria for agents to become Tadbeer-affiliated.
Officials had said private maid hiring agencies in free zones would not be affected by last month's decision but no further information are available.
Small agents faced with costly affiliation
Abu Alaa, an agent in Ajman, works with a small recruitment agency that has been operating for 30 years. The owner will wait until March to see what options are available.
Small companies said they would follow all guidelines but could not afford the Dh500,000 needed for a franchise licence to operate under the banner of a Tadbeer service centre.
“The agencies are asking to continue operating on a small scale, but under the name of Tadbeer," Mr Alaa said.
“Our clients just come to our humble offices, pay Dh20,000, and have a maid at their service for two years.”
He said to recruit workers from countries without UAE agreements on housemaid contracts, such as the Philippines and Indonesia, the only option was to bring in domestic workers on a visit visa.
Philippine missions in Abu Dhabi and Dubai stopped verifying housemaid contracts in 2014. The Overseas Filipino Workers website says they can travel to the UAE on a tourist visa and change their status after special approval from immigration.
New rule to prevent mistreatment of housemaids
Diplomats said a collective effort was needed to stop malpractices and supported the decision to protect housemaids.
Unscrupulous agents lure women to the UAE with the promise of well-paying jobs and then place them as domestic workers on lower wages.
Dr Aman Puri, consul general of India in Dubai, welcomed steps taken by UAE authorities to prevent the exploitation of workers.
"All agents are expected to follow the laid rules and regulations, and must be aware that necessary action will be taken against them by the relevant authorities whenever a complaint is received from the concerned workers," said Dr Puri.
He advised workers to only use authorised agents.
“This will reduce the possibility of illegal agents, indulging in the practice of bringing female workers from India to UAE on the fake promise of jobs,” he said.
“We are absolutely certain that this step will improve the welfare of the female workers."
Nalinda Wijerathna, Sri Lanka's consul general in Dubai, encouraged workers to enter the UAE after registering with their nation's foreign employment bureau.
“If they bypass this and fall into trouble, when they finally come to the embassy or consulate, we don’t have their records and no one can be held responsible."
Both countries provide shelter for maids forced to flee their employers.
The Indian consulate in Dubai has given shelter to 18 maids so far this year and provided plane tickets home to 11 women.
How costs and contracts with Tadbeer centres and private firms differ
Opinion is divided about the cost and flexibility offered by Tadbeer centres. Some prefer the two-year Tadbeer contract and monthly payments to the government agency that then pays the maid's salary.
“I like the fact that either the maid or I can exit the contract and find new partners without me losing money because most private agencies do not refund the principal amount,” said Shahani, a Dubai resident.
An Abu Dhabi resident found Tadbeer’s charges too expensive.
“Yes, you take a risk with a private agency because you will not get a refund. But Tadbeer cannot find you a maid from a country you want,” said Mariam, an Abu Dhabi resident.
“Private agencies charged around Dh9,000 to secure a visa, Tadbeer officials said it would cost Dh12,000 for two years along with charge of Dh400 or more per month."
Tadbeer centres ensure maids are paid on time, guarantee a specified salary and working hours. Private companies say they follow the same rules but it is unclear how this can be regulated.
Mr Alaa said small companies were flexible and his offered a short trial period, a replacement if the maid absconds or the customer is unhappy.
“The client could either swap with another maid, or receive a refund for half the amount he initially paid,” he said.
Fees of Tadbeer-affiliated centres differ depending on agency fees and the nationality of maids they provide.
Companies list varying monthly charges from Dh4,900 for Filipina and Indonesian maids, Dh3,500 for Ethiopian maids. Fees can drop to Dh2,500 for maids from Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania. The charges include medical insurance and wages.
“People think all Tadbeers are one service but they don’t know that the agency fees can be different,” said Ms Omar, from Maidfinder.ae.
“They need to think of it as different shops. There are a lot of options and you need to speak to all Tadbeers to find the right solution for yourself.”