the passport issue

Employment in the United Arab Emirates has differences from employment elsewhere and I am extremely pissed by some of the rules.

Most firms in the UAE/GCC countries are anal about retaining the passport of their employees even against their will and without court order.

The company I am working for is keeping the passport of ALL the employees for all the good reasons. Safe safekeeping, they say. The truth is, they don’t have the authority by law to keep possesion of the employee’s passport, they are personal documents! 

With much hesitation, I gave them my passport last January. Wait, to properly put it, they asked for it for visa application purposes and I gave it.

It never came back.

I got back my passport last March because I need it to apply for the proper visa of my troop. After that, I need to apply for a bank account so I did not return it. Then my mother came and I need the passport still to apply for her visa. All in all, I have it with me for three months. They did not ask for it anyway.

The phone call from the HR personnel yesterday was enough to burn the handset. He was obviously enraged, infuriatingly mad at me. He told me because I had not returned my passport, the HR personnel will not be releasing any passports to the employees who requested it.


It is summer and exodus time in Dubai. Since they are not releasing/processing passport requests, the people who are applying for emergency leave could not get out of the country unless I return mine.

Everyone is angry with me, he says.

WTF! I know perfectly well that all it would take is a couple of well placed phone calls to the right people and I can get this company into a world of trouble. Evil sponsors witholding employee passports!

I was summoned by the department chief today, same topic. He explained that the company’s passport safekeeping is with good intentions (I’m tired of hearing this excuse). My company is my sponsor and if I do something wrong like take a bank loan and abscond, the sponsor is held liable. That and among other reasons is why employees are not trusted with their own personal documents. He added that, unlike other companies in the UAE where you could leave easily, to leave this company, all I have to do is make a month’s notice and the HR moron will send me off at the airport where they officially cancel your visa. Trust the company, they are with good intentions (again!).

Trust? I thought this is a two-way matter. How can I trust them (to give me back my passport in case I quit)  if they don’t trust their employees in the first place?

Expatriates can complain to the Ministry of Labor who is trying to act blind to what is going on here. Lots of luck needed for this one. After all, the expats in UAE are temporary/disposable/expendable people and they always deafeningly say: If you don’t like it here, then leave.

While companies witholding employees’ passports is evil, the real problem lies with the government’s laws that tolerates employers to take such actions. 

I would love to know where this floated in the water of international labor law.

11 thoughts on “the passport issue

  1. That’s too harsh… I didn’t expect it in Dubai. My father who had been working in Saudi Arabia for more than ten years always had his passport with him…


  2. Wow, I have never heard of anything like that. Interesting. Sounds like a mini prison of some sort. Ok, maybe that was a bit harsh, didn’t want to make you feel worse then you already do about this.
    Interesting. Would love to know if ALL companies are like this.
    Best of luck with that one! ;-O


  3. There are also companies here in MY that keep their employees’ passport, lucky for Lem he has it with him. Nah! I did search for such law, can’t find one Gracie, sakit na ako ulo!


  4. I can’t believe that! First time I ever heard that employers are keeping their employees’ personal docs. I don’t think they have the right, although I see their point (which is solely for their sake).


  5. Grace- my hubby says that’s how it works there: In short, to read between the good intention lines- they are keeping their employees’ passport to assure that their workers won’t vanish out of thin air. It’s not trust- but security purposes for them.


  6. hi my name is pawan from india my passport with the company when i came they r saying this company rules & even they r not giving yearly leave as mention in labout contract they r saying labour contract is fomality i met indian labour lawer also in dubai pls provide me the solution wheh i want my passport i need in one day only how they will give back when i want to go back for some emergencey


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