UAE employers not allowed to keep in custody passport of workers

My work visa is issued by a free zone authority in Sharjah and they keep my passport in their custody. Is this legal? Can I keep my passport myself without being fined by the free zone authority? HL, Sharjah

It is absolutely not acceptable – or legal – for anyone to retain a person’s passport. Technically a passport is owned by the government that issues it, not even the individual, so any organisation that seeks to hold someone’s passport is illegally withholding government property. In 2002 the UAE Ministry of Interior issued a circular that stated “As the passport is a personal document that the law obliges its owner to keep and show when required by the governmental authorities, it is not allowed for any party to detain the passport except by the official parties with a judicial order and according to the law. Consequently it will be considered as an illegal action to detain the passport in the UAE except by the governmental parties”. This statement is still valid and nothing in UAE law permits employers to retain an employee’s passport for any longer than is required to obtain or cancel visas. In addition, no one can fine an individual for wanting their own passport. Embassies will confirm that they advise their citizens that the practice of companies holding passports is in clear violation of UAE law, although there is not much that an embassy or consulate can do to help. A handful will contact a company on an employee’s behalf if requested, but general advice in the situation of an employer retaining a passport and refusing to return it is to register a case with the Ministry of Labour. An individual can go to any labour office or contact the helpline on 800 665.

Keren Bobker is an independent financial adviser with Holborn Assets in Dubai with more than 20 years’ experience. Contact her at Follow her on Twitter at @FinancialUAE.

The advice provided in our columns does not constitute legal advice and is provided for information only.

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