Qatar: Reforms to kafala system coming in December

What is the change? Qatar will implement reforms to the kafala system for companies employing foreign nationals beginning Dec. 14.

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What does the change mean? The reforms loosen some of the strict control that employers exercise over foreign employees under the current system. The main changes will relax requirements that foreign employees obtain a former employer’s approval when changing jobs, prohibit employers from holding foreign employees’ passports, and allow foreign workers to apply directly with authorities for exit permits to leave the country.

  • Implementation time frame: Dec. 14.
  • Visas/permits affected: Work permits.
  • Who is affected: Companies employing foreign nationals in Qatar.
  • Business impact: The changes allow more flexibility for foreign employees who are changing employers and for employers who are hiring them than under the current system.
  • Next steps: Additional details that will provide clarifications on how the changes will be implemented are expected to be available in the coming weeks.

Background: Qatar’s kafala system that controls employment of foreign nationals has been criticized as giving excessive control to employers over employees’ movement and job choices. Under the current system, a foreign employee who wants to change jobs must obtain a non-objection certificate from the former employer. Foreign employees must also get the employer’s approval to leave the country.

Among the key changes:

  • Employment contracts will be either for a definite term (not more than five years) or indefinite term.
  • Foreign employees on a definite-term contract may change employers at the end of the contract term without needing a non-objection certificate if they obtain approval from the Ministry of Interior and Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs.
  • Foreign employees on an indefinite-term contract may change employers after completing at least five years of employment with the first employer.
  • Employers will be fined for holding an employee’s passport.
  • Foreign employees may apply for exit permits directly with the Ministry of Interior, although an employer may lodge an objection.
  • A new appeals panel will hear labor disputes, and will issue decisions within three weeks. Decisions may be appealed to an appellate committee and must be filed within 15 days.

B·A·L Analysis: The reforms give greater flexibility to foreign national employees, as well as to U.S. defense contractors who are required to work with local sponsors to employ foreign workers. The new rules will relax some of the control that local sponsors currently have over defense contractor personnel. BAL will update clients as additional details clarify areas of ambiguity in the implementation of the new system.

This alert has been provided by the BAL Global Practice group and our network provider located in Qatar. For additional information, please contact your BAL attorney.

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