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Qatar passes Gulf’s first asylum law and relaxes labour restrictions

Most migrant workers will now be able to leave Qatar without obtaining permits from their employers
Qatar is preparing to host the 2022 soccer World Cup (AFP)

The Qatari government has passed the Gulf region's first asylum law and amended its residency legislation to allow most migrant workers to leave the country without having to obtain exit permits from their employers.

The International Labour Organisation (ILO) has welcomed the enactment of Law No. 1 of 2017, passed on Tuesday, which regulates the entry and exit of expatriates.

A previous legal framework required foreign workers to obtain the permission of employers before leaving Qatar.

The new law “will have a direct and positive impact on the lives of migrant workers in Qatar,” said Houtan Homayounpour, head of the ILO Project Office for the State of Qatar.

The ILO opened an office in Qatar in April to support the implementation of a government labour rights programme.

“The adoption of this law is another step in our continued drive to provide decent work for all migrant workers in Qatar and to ensure their protection," said Issa Saad Al Jafali Al Nuaimi, the Gulf state's minister of administrative development, labour and social affairs.

Employers will still be able to stop workers leaving without a "no-objection certificate", but this measure cannot be applied to more than five percent of their workforce and employers seeking to stop their workers leaving without their consent "due to work necessities" can be appealed. 

A no-objection certificate is a note of clearance that states that the previous employer does not object to their former employee getting a job elsewhere. It frees the worker from any obligation to their prior employer and allows them to find a new job. 

Another law passed on Tuesday regulates the conditions to grant political asylum to refugees.

Law No. 11. 2018 would allow the granting of political asylum, except for those who have committed “a war crime”.

Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, Qatar's emir, has also issued a decree that allows a maximum of 100 expatriates permanent residency in Qatar. Applications will be decided by the state's Ministry of Interior. Residency comes with access to Qatar's generous welfare system and to various commercial rights.    

The law on asylum has also been welcomed by rights groups as long overdue. Nevertheless, the kafala (sponsorship) system by which migrant labourers are monitored remains in place.

The moves come as Qatar prepares to host the 2022 football World Cup, amid a blockade imposed by its Gulf neighbours since last year.

Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain and allied Arab states have accused Qatar of supporting "terrorism".

Since the beginning of the blockade both Saudi Arabi and Qatar have pushed through a number of nominally liberalising reforms and been keen to push these credentials as part of a PR war.

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