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Can an employer hold an employee’s passport in the UAE?

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Some employers still hold their employees’ passports in the UAE. Understanding UAE law regarding passports and employment will provide both employers and employees with a clear picture of the topic.

Legal View

  1. it is against the law for companies in the UAE to request and keep workers’ passports while they are employed there. This was commonplace amongst the service sector, household workers, and those employed in the spa industry. This policy stems from the sponsorship connection that exists between non-Emirati companies and their foreign workers. The idea of requiring employees to carry passports came about as a way to limit their freedom of movement and mitigate hazards.
  1. Passports are government property and should be kept safely in the possession of the passport holder or a person authorized by the holder under the law. Employers and other non-governmental organizations have no legal standing to detain an employee’s passport without the express permission of immigration, law enforcement, or judicial authorities. Even if the employee has signed a voluntary agreement allowing the company to keep their passport, it is illegal to do so.
  1. There are no legitimate grounds for companies to possess employees’ passports. Employer assurances of security, much more so in the case of domestic workers, do not hold water. A domestic worker who shares housing with their employer has a number of choices for keeping her passport safe. Unless otherwise permitted by law, passports should never be used by anybody other than their proper owners.
  1. If an employee’s passport is being held by their company, they can contact the police to have it returned. Police will step in and demand the passport be returned by the employer. If the passport is not returned in a timely manner, the police may come and take it from you. Workers shouldn’t be afraid to report illegal behavior to the police, as they are well-versed in the law and can respond quickly.
  1. Although businesses have the right to fire their employees at any time in the UAE, firing an employee for refusing to turn over their passport could be considered arbitrary dismissal. In such a circumstance, the employee is entitled to a one-month notice period as well as compensation for arbitrary dismissal, which can amount to up to three months of full salary. Employment in the UAE is based on a “employment at will” idea, therefore even if an employee wins a case alleging unjust dismissal, the employer is under no obligation to bring them back.
  1. if an employer refuses to surrender an employee’s passport, the situation can be taken to court and criminal penalties imposed. The worker should complain to the authorities that their employer has unlawfully taken custody of their passport. The company may face legal consequences analogous to those incurred by a thief. If the worker prevails in the criminal case, they will be able to sue their employer in civil court for damages. Employees are entitled to compensation for losses incurred as a result of their incapacity to travel, provided that they can provide evidence of such losses.

In sum It is illegal for employers to keep their employees’ passports on file. Legally, passports belong to the owner.

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