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Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Qatar Sponsorship Law: New Criticism

New criticism of the Qatar sponsorship law has arisen, along with hopes that Qatar may follow Bahrain in abandoning a law which some highly placed Qataris have criticised - but which others see as essential for business.

A Controversial Law

The Qatari sponsorship law is a system where expats are sponsored by their employers, and need their sponsor's permission to leave the country, open an account, obtain an alcohol permit, change their job and numerous other activities which are counted as a basic right elsewhere. If people leave their job, they can be blocked from returning to Qatar for two years - devastating for those brought up in Qatar and who have their lives and families here.

It's an unpopular law amongst expats who feel their freedom cramped by it. And it has been criticised by America, human rights bodies and even the Qatari prime minister.

Nevertheless, Qatari business people feel that the sponsorhip law is essential in a country where the employer often has to bear the cost of bringing employees into their country.


A series of laws have weakened the effect of the sponsorship system.

Some individuals working in the financial sector do not require sponsorship.

Many people can also now obtain multiple expert visas, meaning they do not need to obtain specific permission for each time they want to leave the country.

Laws have also been passed to prevent sponsors from retaining employees passports, and if a sponsor refuses permission to leave the country his employee can now take the issue to court.

Nevertheless, any suggestion of getting rid of the system always draws strong opposition.

New Criticism

New criticism from no less than Sheikh Hamad Bin Jaber Al Thani, secretary general of the General Secretariat for Development Planning (GSDP), now argues that the sponsorship law is holding back the development of the country.

According to the Peninsula the secretariate argued that the law was discouraging locals from learning skills and competing in the job market. The story didn't explain why.

We'd also argue that sponsorship is hampering job mobility. The current system encourages skilled people to leave the country instead of finding a job with another company. What's more, it blocks talented individuals from returning to Qatar for two years.

Hopefully, Qatar will one day follow Bahrain in getting rid of sponsorship. The country will first have to persuade local business men to overcome their fear of staff being poached. One logical step might be to insist that new companies pay back a portion of an employee's travel costs when they do take poach staff from competing companies.

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