In October last year, Emir H H Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al Thani issued Law No 21 of 2015 regulating the entry, exit and residency of expatriates. The law comes into effect from today (December 13).
Under the new law, freedom of movement is explicitly guaranteed. Expats will no longer need approval from their existing employer to change jobs if they complete the length of a fixed-term contract. Individuals in open-ended contracts will also be able to change jobs without their existing employer’s permission, provided that they complete a five-year service period.
Expats have the right to leave the country after notifying the employer, whether to take leave or for an emergency. Expats also have the right to permanently leave the country before or after completing the duration of their contract, after notifying the employer according to the terms of the contract.
All prospective migrant workers will be able to see a copy of their job contract, prior to leaving their country of origin, as obtaining a work visa will now require the existence of a job contract approved by the Ministry. However, visa applications already under processing have been exempted from this rule.
Employers found to have confiscated passports can be fined up to QR25,000 per worker. When enacted, this will be the toughest penalty against passport confiscation within the region.
Below are answers to some of the most commonly asked questions in relation to Law as provided by the Ministry of Administrative Development, Labour and Social Affairs yesterday.
How will expatriates be able to change jobs under the new law?
Under the new law, expats will no longer need approval from their existing employer to change jobs if they complete the length of a fixed-contract. However, it is required that expats in fixed-contracts provide written notice to their employer before the contract expires, advising their employer of their intention to change jobs at the end of their contract. The duration to notify the employer will depend on the terms and conditions in the contract signed by each employee.
Expats in open-ended contracts will also be able to change jobs without their existing employer’s permission, provided that they complete a five-year service period. However, it is required that Expats in open-ended contracts provide a written notice to their employer prior to changing job.
All Expats who wish to change jobs will also need to get the approval of the Ministry of Administrative Development, Labour & Social Affairs (ADSLA) prior to taking up their new employment.
How are service periods calculated under the new law?
All service periods will be calculated from the day that the employee started working for their employer. This includes all days of employment accumulated prior to the implementation of Law No. 21 of 2015.
Will expatriates be able to change jobs prior to completing their agreed service period?
In cases where a worker wishes to change job prior to completing the length of their contract, they will need to seek permission from their existing employer. However, in cases where the worker can demonstrate they have been exploited or mistreated by their employer, the law gives them the right to demand to transfer employment.
If expats leaves Qatar, how long will they need to wait before returning to the country to take up employment?
Expats who leave Qatar and have had their employment and Residency Permit terminated, will be able to return to Qatar to take up employment immediately after being granted a new visa. However, this will not be the case for workers who have been found guilty of misconduct whilst working for their previous employer in Qatar.
How long do employees have to find another contract in the case of termination of a contract?
If necessary, employees can have up to three months to find work by notifying the Ministry of Administrative Development, Labour and Social Affairs. When the worker has found a new job, they will be required to return to the Ministry and present their new employment contract. Expatriates who do not find work within this period must leave Qatar.
How can expatriates apply for an exit permit under the new rules?
Firstly, the Ministry of Administrative Development, Labour and Social Affairs will make employers agree on annual leave dates with the workers. When applying for an exit permit, for annual leave or an emergency, migrant workers will first submit their application in writing to their employer, as per the terms of their contract.
It is anticipated that in the overwhelming majority of cases, exit permit requests will be approved and processed by employers immediately. In some cases, if the employer rejects this request, expats will be able to apply directly to the Exit Permit Grievances Committee.
Expats are able to submit requests via an e-government services programme, or in-person at government service complexes and police stations throughout Qatar. Once submitted, all exit permit requests received will be decided upon within 72 hours.
Upon receipt, the Exit Permit Grievances Committee will conduct an immediate background check of the applicant to ensure that no active or pending criminal proceedings, or financial claims, are currently against them.
During the Committee’s 72-hour window for deciding upon the request, it will look to contact the applicant’s employer. When contacted, the employer will be asked if they have any objections to the request. Valid objections may include: a) reason to believe that the employee has committed fraud b) reason to believe that the worker is attempting to evade prosecution for a crime.
If any of these objections are raised by the employer, the burden will be on the employer to convince the relevant authorities before the 72-hour period closes that a criminal case should be opened up against the worker. If they cannot succeed in persuading the relevant authorities, the worker will be automatically granted an Exit Permit.
What will happen if the Exit Permit Grievances Committee is unable to contact the expatriate’s employer?
If the Committee cannot contact an expatriate’s employer within 72 hours of their exit permit application being submitted, it will approve the request – provided that the worker passes all relevant background checks.
What will happen where there is an emergency and an expatriate needs to return sooner?
Seventy two hours is the current maximum we expect for the appeals process, in reality the system can operate much faster. In the event of an emergency, e.g. a natural disaster in their country of origin, the committee can expedite this timing.
Who are the Members of the Exit Permit Grievances Committee, and how does it operate?
The Exit Permit Grievances Committee will consist of officials from the Ministry of Interior, the Ministry of Administrative Development, Labour and Social Affairs, and representatives of the National Human Rights Committee. In their hearings, the worker will have the opportunity to contest any evidence that may have been used against them. Further, the worker will also have the opportunity to appeal for clemency, in cases where they owe debt but need to return home for a medical or family emergency.
The government anticipates that the majority of cases heard by the Exit Permit Grievances Committee will be decided in favour of workers.
In cases where an expatriate is prevented from receiving an exit permit, will their family members be able to leave the country?
Family members and dependents will be allowed to leave freely – unless they are implicated in any crime committed by the expatriate under investigation.