Dubai: What is an employee’s right if his or her company’s human resources (HR) department demands that they hand over their passport? This was the question raised by a Gulf News reader.
He wrote: “I have joined a new company recently and unlike my old company, here employees are asked to submit their passport to the HR department. I am not comfortable with giving my passport to the HR department, but I understand from my colleagues that this is a requirement. Is this legal and if I insist on not giving my passport, will I face any issues at my workplace? Please advise!”
Gulf News raised the reader’s query with Ahmed Elnaggar, Managing Partner of Elnaggar & Partners a UAE-based law firm, who said that it is illegal for an employer to withhold an employee’s passport against the employee’s will.
“The employer should only be in possession of the employee’s passport when they are carrying out official business (i.e. visa issuance, renewal and/or cancellation) and the passport should be returned to the employee directly after completion,” he said.
“After the employee obtains their employment visa or their employment visa is cancelled, the employer should immediately return the passport back to the employee. However, this isn’t always the case, and if the employer doesn’t willingly hand over the passport, the employee should immediately take an official position against the refusal and request the return of the passport, in writing,” he added.
The employer should only be in possession of the employee’s passport when they are carrying out official business (i.e. visa issuance, renewal and/or cancellation) and the passport should be returned to the employee directly after completion.
Getting a written approval
Elnaggar also advised that getting an official letter from an employer may be helpful in such cases.
“If the employer insists on withholding the employee’s passport, after the employee has submitted their written request for the return of their passport, the employee should request the company to issue an official letter confirming the fact that they are in possession of the employee’s passport and the reason behind this action. This letter should be dated, should be on the company’s letterhead, stamped and signed by the authorised representative of the company. The letter should mention the employee’s name, passport details and the reason for withholding the employee’s passport and the name of the person who made this decision. If the employer will not comply with the employee’s request for an official signed and stamped letter, then the employee should insist on obtaining a coloured copy of their passport dated and signed by an authorised representative of their employer, to have a proof that the original passport is being withheld by the company,” he said.
Elnaggar added that some companies may use the practice of withholding an employee’s passport as a leverage for negotiations, which may benefit the company.
“The most common occurrence used by employers, is withholding an employee’s passport until he or she repays or compensates the company for the costs of issuance of the work and residency permit or the cancellation of their employment. Visa costs are the employer’s sole responsibility regardless of how the employee was hired and if they resigned or are terminated. Any request from an employer for compensation or installment plans towards visa fees is illegal and punishable by UAE law,” he added.