Qatar exit visa reform to be enforced ‘by end of month’

Doha, Qatar: Qatar’s decision to abolish its controversial exit visa system will come into force by the end of October, a leading global trade union official said Monday.

Sharan Burrow, head of the International Trade Union Confederation and once a prominent critic of the 2022 football World Cup host’s labour practices, was speaking in Doha after meeting Qatar’s prime minister and labour minister.

“We’ve seen significant progress, first of all we have seen the end of the exit visa law and that will be now implemented by the end of October,” she said.

“Everybody’s aware that this is a big shift and that it will actually take a period of time but formally it will be implemented by the end of the month.”

Qatar announced in September it had approved legislation to scrap the visa system, which requires all foreign workers to obtain their employers’ permission to leave the country.

Until now, no date had been given for when it would come into force.

Under the landmark labour law, only a maximum five percent of each company’s workforce — thought to be those in the most senior positions — will still need permission to leave Qatar.

There are some two million foreign workers in Qatar.

Scrapping the exit permit is the biggest announcement made so far since Qatar agreed last November to enter into a three-year agreement with the UN’s International Labour Organization to oversee reform.

Other changes include the introduction of a minimum monthly wage, set at 750 Qatari riyals ($205, 180 euros), plus accommodation.

Burrow added that research was underway on whether that amount should be increased.

Critics have long argued for abolition of the exit visa — a lynchpin of the country’s “kafala”, or sponsorship, system which many liken to modern-day slavery.

Research published last year by rights group found that around a quarter of all exit visa requests were denied by the government.