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13 April 2024

What to do when: Employer insists on retaining passport

By Shuchita Kapur

Retention of employee passport by an employer is against the law in the UAE, and an individual has the right to take the legal course against if it done without the employee’s consent or without a court order.

According to Jamie Liddington, head of employment at law firm Hadef & Partners, it is unlawful for an employer to withhold and retain an employee’s passport without the employee’s consent – and this has always been the case.

“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,” he explains.

Despite the law in place, if an employer still decides to retain an employee’s passport, s/he has the full right to take legal course of action.

“In the event that an employer has retained an employee’s passport and refuses to return the document, a report could be made to the Ministry of Labour. It is possible to file a petition in the court for an urgent decision by a judge,” Liddington told Emirates 24|7.

Retaining workers' passports amounts to forcible work in violation of the International Labour Organisation's (ILO) Convention on the Abolition of Forced Labour, to which the UAE is a signatory.

A passport given to the employer on trust to complete certain formalities must be returned to the worker once these formalities are complete, say legal experts in the country.