Qatar has approved legislation to scrap controversial exit visas which require all foreign workers to obtain their employers’ permission to leave the country, according to official statements published Tuesday.
There are some two million foreign workers in Qatar, many employed directly or indirectly on vast infrastructure projects for the football World Cup, which will take place in the Gulf in 2022.
Under the new law, only a maximum five percent of each company’s workforce — thought to be those in the most senior positions — will still need permission to leave Qatar.
The law change “regulating the entry, exit and residency of expatriates” was issued as an Emiri decree by the country’s ruler Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, reported the Qatar News Agency.
No further details were given by the government and it was not immediately clear when the new law will come into force.
“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,” said labour minister, Issa Saad al-Jafali al-Nuaimi.
The move was immediately backed by the UN’s International Labour Organization, which opened an office in Doha this year as part of a three-year agreement to oversee labour reform.
“The ILO welcomes enactment of (the law), which will have a direct and positive impact on the lives of migrant workers in Qatar,” said Houtan Homayounpour, head of the ILO’s Doha office.
“This first step towards full suppression of exit permits is a clear sign of commitment by the government of Qatar to labour reforms.”
Critics of Qatar’s labour practices have long called for abolition of the exit visa, viewing it as a cornerstone of the derided “kafala” – or sponsorship — system.