Employer keeping your Passport is NOT Legal so be aware of your Rights

This article talks about the situation that every expat and domestic helper may face (whether in the UAE, or elsewhere abroad). Employers keeping passport of their employees may be a sensitive topic but it is good to be aware of your rights and know what is the law as per UAE Labour. It is very important that before we go and seek opportunities overseas, we have an idea of certain situations and be equipped with the knowledge on how to hand them accordingly. Please read the rest of the article for more details.

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The other day, I was told by my employer that my passport was going to be kept for safekeeping. I was advised that this was the norm for Dubai employees and their employers. At the beginning, I was taken aback since I didn’t like surrendering my Philippine passport to my Dubai employer and I thought that while working in the UAE, I should always have my passport with me because it is my ownership.

Related Post: How I Filed a Complaint at MOHRE Against my Employer for Keeping My Passport 

I have been travelling outside the Philippines in the past and I have always made sure to secure my passport with me at all times. So the thought of giving my passport and leaving it with my manager just did not feel right. After all, I am the owner of my passport and case something happens to it, I am the one responsible for it.

Disclaimer: Information below is an account of a single person’s experience only. Please do not use this as a basis if you have any legal concerns with your employer. The purpose of this blog post is for awareness. If you have questions, it’s always best to consult legal advice with the proper people.

Watch the video below on the 10 Things to Know when Getting a Job in the UAE:

UAE Labour Law on Surrendering Passport to Employers

When I contacted the UAE Ministry of Labour (now called Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratisation – MOHRE) through their hotline, they informed me that “It is a mutual agreement between the employer and the employee to surrender their Passport.
Note: UAE Ministry of Labour Telephone Number: 800 665 (toll free)

I tried to explain my situation, and they repeated the same statement. “Surrendering your passport to your employer is a MUTUAL Agreement.

Obviously, if one party does not agree, then there is no need to give my passport to my boss.

Also Read: Employers not Paying Salary on Time is Illegal

uae employers keeping passport of employees

That being said, let us take a closer look into what a passport is, why it is important, and what the UAE Law says about keeping employees’ passports. Let us also discuss further why some employers decide to keep their workers’ passports, and what you can do if you find yourself in this situation.

What is a Passport & Why is it Important?

First of all, your passport is a government-issued document and considered as government property. It identifies you as a legal citizen of your home country and serves as your “identity card,” whether you are a foreign worker, student, or tourist.

Without your passport, you cannot travel outside of your home country. Hence, you need to keep it safe, wherever you go. If your passport gets lost, stolen, or damaged, be sure to head to your nearest embassy to have it replaced.

When you lose your passport, it is NOT up to your sponsor to process a new application for you. Instead, it is you, a citizen who should go to your nearest Embassy or Consulate to process a renewal.

What does the Law Say About Keeping Workers’ Passports?

According to a decree issued by the UAE Ministry of Interior, the passport is a personal document for the owner to keep and show when required by government authorities. Unless a passport is detained with a judicial order and according to the law, keeping someone else’s passport is considered an illegal action.

Likewise, the Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratisation (MOHRE) has stated that retaining an employee’s passport is considered as “forcible work,” which violates the International Labour Organisation (ILO) Convention on the Abolition of Forced Labour. The UAE is a signatory to this convention.

What is the Fine for Employers who Refuse to Return Passports?

Refusing to return a worker’s passport is considered as a breach of trust and violates the law. If an employer refuses to return your passport, you can file a complaint with the Ministry of Labour. Such a case could lead to a jail sentence and a fine of up to AED 20,000. Here’s a guide How to File a Complaint at Tasheel for Employer Keeping My Passport

Why Do Some Employers Keep their Workers’ Passports?

Keeping someone else’s passport is technically illegal in the UAE. However, some companies still decide to do this. Why?

Many employers decide to hold their workers’ passports for safekeeping purposes — to prevent them from leaving suddenly without permission. This is extremely crucial for employees who still are handling money (especially large amounts) in their jobs. But we also cannot deny the employers that there are cases where employees will not leave their employers and not honor their labour contracts. When these cases arise, the employer is left with a huge bill to settle since hiring an employee will require visa costs, and employment costs.

Given these scenarios, security of their employees is very understandable why employers want to keep their employee’s passports. And as mentioned earlier, giving your passport to your employer for safekeeping is considered a mutual agreement.

But it is very important that you establish trust with your employer and vice versa and have respect with each other.

What Can You Do as an Employee?

Although there is a law stating that retaining passports is illegal, it is still widely practiced as a way for employers to ensure that their workers do not leave suddenly without permission. Given this situation, what can you do as an employee? Here are some suggestions:

#1. First of all, even before signing a a job contract, do not hesitate to ask your prospective employer if they have any “policies” on holding their workers’ passports. If they do, try to negotiate with them about this matter, or consider looking for another job.

#2. If you still decide to accept the job, knowing that the employer will hold your passport, ask for a document to be signed by both you and your employer. This document should state that the employer is holding your passport and that it will be returned at the date you agreed upon.

NOTE: Keep in mind that once you surrender your passport, even if there is a signed agreement, you are still putting yourself at risk. Ideally, your passport should still be with you at all times.

#3. If your employer insists on holding your passport against your will, even after you remind them that it is illegal, then it is time to take legal action. You can start by seeking assistance from your embassy and filing a complaint with the Ministry of Labour. Take note that once you decide to do this, your employer will know about your complaint, so be prepared to get involved in legal procedures for the case to be resolved.

Know Your Rights as an Employee, But Show Respect to Your Employer

Remember that while you might complain on social media about this situation, it is NOT as as effective as filing a complaint directly yourself. If you do not want your employer to keep your passport, then try to explain and reason in a calm and respectful manner.

Again, this is a sensitive topic to a lot of Filipinos. We hope that this serves as a guide for added knowledge. It is important that we are aware of the law, so we can make informed decisions.

Situation with other Pinoy OFWs

I tried talking to some Pinoy friends in Dubai about the matter. Some had left their passports with their employer, while others kept them. But one of the main reasons why companies take their employee’s passports is because they don’t want their employees to leave the country without permission.

There are incidents where Overseas Filipino Workers or even other expat nationalities would fly out to their home country even if they are still  tied to their company. For various reasons, they try to escape Dubai and not return. Given this situation, companies are wary of hiring employees and taking the passport of their employees is an assurance that they would not leave the company without notice.

labor card and passport
My Dubai Labor card and my Philippine Passport

My boss said that since he gave me my pataca (Labor card), then I should give him my passport. I can still claim it in case I want to leave the country. If ever I leave the country while I’m still tied to them, then I’ll have to undergo the proper process of resignation. I might have to pay fines for not fulfilling my 2-year Limited Contract though.

Related Posts: Helpful Articles Regarding UAE Labour and jobs in UAE


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