Is your employer authorised to withhold your passport?

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Staff Writer, TLR

Published on July 14, 2023, 17:40:59


passport, employer, employment visa

Surrender of one’s personal freedom and freedom of movement are totally unauthorised.

Question: I resigned from my company as a cleaner following a pay cut, on October 6, 2020. I signed the document for my employment visa cancellation on November 7, 2020, and was promised by my employer that my passport would be returned to me after the cancellation of my visa. I started following it up with my employer because I had to join a new job. I received confirmation about my visa cancellation on December 6, 2020, which had just 11 days of validity from the date of cancellation (November 25, 2020). I was surprised to find out that I had already started incurring fines and my passport was still not returned to me. When I enquired with my employer, I was told that my passport was not with them! Without the passport, I could not get my new employment visa stamped. I was told by my former employer that I needed to get in touch with a former manager of the company. Because of this harassment and in order to get my passport back, I filed a case against my former employer on December 8, 2020. Thereafter, I received a letter from Dubai Courts and submitted it to my former employer on December 16, 2020, and I also lodged a complaint with Dubai Police against my former employer the same day for not returning my passport. Dubai Police then contacted my employer and they promised to return the passport after two days. However, until December 20, 2020, they had not returned my passport. Si I went to Dubai Police again. Then my former employer said that I needed to go to Dubai Courts to get my passport back. Upon contacting the former manager of the company, I was told that the employer had instructed her to keep my passport as a collateral against the debt I had with the company and the passport was with Dubai Courts. I remember, last year, I was made to sign an undertaking in Arabic. Until this day, I don’t what the exact content of that undertaking was. I just followed the instructions from my former employer and signed that document, without knowing what it was. Please advise me so that I can get my passport back.

Answer: The passport is a document attached to the person who owns it. Personal freedom and freedom of movement are guaranteed to all — within the limits of law. So, it is not permissible for any creditor, sponsor or employer to seize the passport of a debtor/employee or a sponsored person and keep it in one’s possession with the intention of restricting someone’s freedom of movement — even with the consent of the person concerned. Surrender of one’s personal freedom and freedom of movement, according to the will of the creditor, employer or sponsor is considered an absolutely null agreement that is not subject to authorisation. The legislator has organised in Article 188, as replaced by Cabinet Resolution No 33 of 2020 of the Civil Procedures Code cases, which says that the competent judge may prevent the debtor from travelling according to the procedures specified in the law and the judge may order that the debtor’s passport be deposited in the court’s treasury and not hand it over to the creditor to keep it in his or her possession.

It has been decided by Dubai Courts “that it is not permissible for the employer to seize the worker’s passport and deny his natural right to travel and movement, regardless of the nature of the relationship that binds them together. The seizure of the passport from its owner is nothing but preventing a person from travelling. This is governed by the text of Article 329 of the Civil Procedures Law, which lists the cases in which a travel ban is permissible and it is stipulated that the order is issued by the judge in accordance with the formal and substantive procedures specified in the law (In cassation No 268/2001, Rights).

In view of these legal provisions, your employer doesn’t have the right to seize your passport for any reason — even if you owe him money or as collateral for any debt that you may have with the company.

What you did to get your passport back was correct — right from filing a case in Dubai Courts to lodging a police complaint. You will have to visit the police station again should you request your former employer to submit your passport to the police station.

If your former employer does not respond to your calls again, then you can file a court application (for an warrant arrest), requesting to arrest the employer for refusing to obey the court’s decision and also request the judge executing the order to detention the former employer.