Filipinos have been reminded to keep their passports instead of handing them over to their employers or placement agencies. Passports are not the property of a holder but by the Philippine government so passport holders can also be called caretakers of such travel and identity documents.
Therefore, keeping these passports under our care is paramount. That also means it must not be kept by others — employers, loan companies and the like — for whatever reason.
In the Middle East, many Filipinos are not free to keep their passports despite the laws that prohibit others, notably employers, from keeping them. Some employers seem to hold their workers hostage by keeping their passports in the guise of safekeeping.
In reality, while not strongly enforced or loosely defined, there are guidelines that implicitly bar employers from keeping worker’s passport:
“No person shall be arrested, detained, imprisoned, searched or compelled to reside in a specified place, nor shall the residence of any person or his liberty to choose his place of residence or his liberty of movement be restricted, except in accordance with the law and under the supervision of the judicial authorities.”
– Constitution of Bahrain Article 19 Section b
“Companies in Kuwait will no longer be allowed to withhold employees’ passports under new labour laws being written, according to Arabic daily Al Shahed. A draft resolution is expected to be submitted to the Minister of Social Affairs and Labor and Minister of Planning and Development Hind Al- Subaih before the end of this month, the daily said, quoting ministry sources.”
– Arabian Business
“It [new law on domestic helpers] prohibits employers from confiscating workers’ passports, a common abuse, but fails to specify penalties.”
– Human Rights Watch
“It is illegal to keep the passport of the employee as it is a personal document and legally, the property of the government issuing it. In Oman, normally a passport is handed over by the expat only to get a residence visa stamped on it and as per the rules, it should be returned after the stamping.”
Qatar Labor Law – #4 of 2009 Regulating The Entry And Exit Of Expatriates In Qatar And Their Residence And Sponsorship
Article 9: The sponsor shall deliver the passport or travel document to the sponsored person once the procedures for issuing or renewing the residence permit are accomplished.
“The Law 4/2009 regulates the entry, exit and residency of the country’s foreign workers (expatriates) and it gives adequate protection to the foreigners and guarantees their right to keep passports in their possession.. Violation of the law could amount to a penalty of not less than QR10,000 to the sponsor or his representative for every passports that he keeps in his illegal custody.”
– Doha legal activist and Migrant Asia regional co-ordinator Nizar Kochery
The Labor Ministry has reiterated that it is the right of foreign workers to keep their passports and official documents.
“Anybody violating this rule will face serious penalties,” said Taysir Al-Mofraj, the ministry’s spokesman.
– Arab News
UNITED ARAB EMIRATES
International Labour Organization (ILO) Convention on the Abolition of Forced Labour
“Retaining workers’ passport also amounts to forcible work in violation of International Labour Organization (ILO) Convention on the Abolition of Forced Labour – to which the UAE is a signatory. Employers who fail to give workers their passports on request are in breach of trust. The offence carries imprisonment of upto three years and/or fine amounting to AED20,000 or more,” quotes UAE Ministry of Labour Legal Department.
“It was stated in a decree by the Ministry of Interior (in December 2002) that it will be considered as an illegal action to retain the passports except by governmental parties. It is a personal travel document that proves the identity of the holder, and the laws stipulate that the bearer must keep his or her passport and present it to the government authorities upon request. In case of holding of passports by anyone without a court order, there will be a suitable punishment by the law.”
– Jamie Liddington, head of employment at law firm Hadef & Partners