September 4, 2018 / 6:19 PM / 18 days ago

Qatar lifts controversial exit visa system for most workers

DUBAI (Reuters) - Qatar amended its residency laws on Tuesday to allow most foreign workers to leave the country without exit permits from their employers, a provision which labor rights groups have long said should be abolished.

Doha is keen to show it is tackling allegations of worker exploitation as it prepares to host the 2022 soccer World Cup, which it has presented as a showcase of its progress and development.

The new law allows most workers to leave the country without exit permits from their employers, Qatar said in a statement quoting Minister of Administrative Development, Labour and Social Affairs Issa al-Nuaimi.

Employers will still be allowed to require up to five percent of their workforce to request permission to leave, after submitting their names to the government “with justifications based on the nature of the work,” the statement said.

The ILO hailed the move as a “significant step” for gas-rich Qatar, which committed last year to introducing sweeping labor reforms, including changes to the exit visa system.

“The ILO welcomes the enactment of Law No. 13, which will have a direct and positive impact on the lives of migrant workers in Qatar,” said Houtan Homayounpour, the head of the ILO office in Doha, which was set up in April.

Labor and rights groups have attacked Qatar for its “kafala” sponsorship system, which is common in Gulf states where large portions of the population is foreign.

Qatar’s system still requires the country’s 1.6 million mainly Asian foreign workers to obtain their employers’ consent before changing jobs, which the groups say leaves workers open to abuse.

The government’s other pledged reforms include introduction of a minimum wage and a grievance procedure for workers.

Reporting by Katie Paul, editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg, Larry King

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