2023 Trafficking in Persons Report: Qatar
QATAR (Tier 2)
The Government of Qatar does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking but is making significant efforts to do so. The government demonstrated overall increasing efforts compared with the previous reporting period, considering the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, if any, on its anti-trafficking capacity; therefore Qatar remained on Tier 2. These efforts included increasing investigations, prosecutions, and convictions of suspected traffickers, including investigating an allegedly complicit official. The government also identified significantly more victims, all of whom it referred to and assisted at its anti-trafficking shelter, which re-opened in October 2022. Additionally, it linked government systems between the Ministry of Labor (MOL) and Ministry of Interior (MOI) to address employers’ use of false “absconding” charges on workers attempting to change jobs or file complaints, which may have reduced the vulnerability to trafficking for such workers seeking to remove themselves from exploitive situations. The government also increased the number of specialized prosecutors in the Public Prosecutor’s Office (PPO) to improve its capacity to investigate and prosecute alleged trafficking crimes. However, the government did not meet the minimum standards in several key areas. Officials continued to routinely use arbitration and administrative penalties to resolve grievances filed by migrant workers, including domestic workers, instead of investigating such cases as possible human trafficking crimes, including cases of severe wage theft or worker-paid recruitment fees, both considered trafficking indicators. The government’s anti-trafficking shelter did not provide long-term care or allow victims freedom to leave, work during their stay or self-refer; the National Committee to Combat Human Trafficking (NCCHT) remained the sole government entity able to officially refer victims to the shelter, which may have limited care victims received and delayed other victims from receiving care in a timely manner. Authorities also reportedly arrested, detained, and deported potential trafficking victims for immigration and “prostitution” violations, fleeing their employers or sponsors, and at times when seeking remedy for labor violations including wage theft. Some workers continued to face obstacles when attempting to change jobs without employer permission under the most recent reform to Qatar’s visa sponsorship system. Finally, the government did not effectively prevent the further exploitation, including trafficking, of vulnerable populations – particularly migrant workers – some of whom were reportedly affected by expedited preparations leading up to the World Cup.
- Consider labor violations and complaints with trafficking indicators as potential labor trafficking crimes and investigate them accordingly, including cases of non-payment or delayed salaries, passport confiscation, excessive hours, and worker-paid recruitment fees.
- Prevent penalization of trafficking victims by screening for trafficking indicators among those arrested for immigration violations or prostitution, those who flee abusive employers and face counter-charges – such as “absconding” and those seeking remedy for labor abuses – especially in cases of severe wage theft.
- Draft and finalize formal procedures to proactively identify victims of all forms of trafficking, including Cuban medical professionals and People’s Republic of China (PRC) overseas workers, and institute regular trainings for all officials on how to employ these procedures systematically.
- Draft and finalize official victim referral procedures and widely disseminate such procedures to all officials.
- Allow other government and non-government entities outside of the National Committee to Combat Human Trafficking (NCCHT) to refer victims to care.
- Equip the specialized trafficking shelter with long-term care options and allow victims freedom of movement and the opportunity to work while in the shelter.
- Ensure the Wage Protection System (WPS) covers all companies and individuals, including domestic workers, and holds accountable violators with deterrent penalties, and ensure officials screen all wage theft cases for other trafficking indicators.
- Increase efforts to prosecute trafficking offenses, particularly labor trafficking crimes, and to convict and punish traffickers under the 2011 anti-trafficking law, rather than other criminal laws, when applicable.
- Expand training on the application of the anti-trafficking law to judicial authorities to ensure courts do not drop trafficking charges against defendants, when applicable.
- Continue to implement reforms to the sponsorship system by streamlining transfer procedures and disseminate clear guidance on the legal requirements to change jobs to mitigate the burden on workers.
- Prohibit employers from filing “absconding” charges or cancelling residency permits in retaliation for workers utilizing these reforms and hold non-compliant employers accountable with adequate penalties.
- Increase capacity of Labor Dispute Resolution Committees (LDRCs) to refer suspected trafficking cases for criminal investigative proceedings and ensure verdicts rendered by the committee can be enforced without workers filing a civil court case.
The government increased law enforcement efforts. The 2011 anti-trafficking law criminalized sex trafficking and labor trafficking and prescribed penalties of up to seven years’ imprisonment and a fine of up to 250,000 Qatari riyals (QR) ($68,680) for offenses involving adult male victims, and up to 15 years’ imprisonment and a fine of up to 300,000 QR ($82,420) for offenses involving adult female or child victims. Managers of recruiting agencies found guilty of trafficking faced up to five years’ imprisonment and a fine of up to QR 200,000 ($54,950). These penalties were sufficiently stringent and, with respect to sex trafficking, commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape.
The government continued to utilize its specialized trafficking units within MOI and the PPO. During the reporting period, through decision no. 17 of 2022 issued by the Attorney General, the PPO’s specialized anti-trafficking unit increased the number of prosecutors specialized in trafficking crimes employed in the unit. The government investigated 10 cases, including eight forced labor cases involving 18 alleged suspects and two cases of sex trafficking involving three suspects; this was on par compared with the investigation of eight forced labor cases with an unknown number of suspects in 2021. The PPO prosecuted nine cases, including three alleged sex traffickers in two cases and 19 alleged labor traffickers in seven cases; this was a significant increase compared with the prosecution of two labor trafficking cases with an unknown number of defendants in 2021. The government convicted six labor traffickers and two sex traffickers under the anti-trafficking law and the penal code; all traffickers were sentenced to imprisonment ranging from one to 10 years and fines. In February 2023, the First Instance Criminal Court sentenced two Pakistani nationals to 10 years’ imprisonment and a fine of 100,000 QR ($27,470) for deceiving a Pakistani woman to visit Qatar for tourism and subsequently exploiting her in sex trafficking. In the previous reporting period, the government reported convicting 10 labor traffickers; however, it did not report case details, what laws traffickers were convicted under, nor sentencing details.
In previous reporting periods, observers noted prosecutors consistently used the Qatari penal code to address trafficking crimes rather than the anti-trafficking law. While the government prosecuted and convicted labor traffickers during the year, officials did not consistently consider labor complaints or violations where trafficking indicators were present as potential trafficking crimes – including in cases where allegations of forced labor were reported from companies contracted to support the World Cup. Instead, authorities continued to resolve most labor violations through transfer of the employee to a different employer, mandated back payment of wages, fines, and blacklisting of companies without investigating such cases as potential trafficking crimes. Corruption and official complicity in trafficking crimes were concerns during the year, which may have inhibited law enforcement action. However, the government reported investigating a police officer for allegedly coercing individuals to work for the company he owned and using his authority as a law enforcement official to intimidate them from reporting the situation. The case was referred to courts and remained under review at the close of the reporting period while the alleged perpetrator remained in custody; the government amended the victims’ legal status so they could find new employment or depart Qatar while awaiting trial proceedings. Following an investigation into allegations involving a Qatari individual in the United States that occurred during previous reporting periods, authorities in the United States did not find labor trafficking to be involved and did not bring criminal charges.
The NCCHT – directly and in partnership with an international organization and other government entities – financed and conducted specialized, extensive trainings on trafficking issues. The MOL, in coordination with an international organization, a foreign embassy, and the International Domestic Worker’s Federation (IDWF) provided several training sessions for representatives of private recruitment agencies on the rights of domestic workers and agencies’ roles in preventing their exploitation through the recruitment process. Additionally, a human trafficking course that focused on methods of investigation, supporting potential victims, and transnational trafficking cases continued to be part of the mandatory training curriculum for all prosecutors. During the reporting period, the NCCHT organized and coordinated a training on forced labor indicators for hospitality staff in hotels with an international organization, MOL and the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy (SCDL); the NCCHT and the worker committee established in the hospitality sector drafted a series of measures to address forced labor and prevent exploitive labor practices in the sector.
The government increased protection efforts. During the reporting period, the government reported identifying and referring 33 trafficking victims to care, including two adult female sex trafficking victims, and 10 adult male and 21 adult female forced labor victims; all identified victims were foreign nationals from Lebanon, Uganda, Tunisia, Morocco, the Philippines and Pakistan. In the previous reporting period, the government identified five victims and referred them care. The MOI’s specialized unit reported it used written procedures to identify potential victims, but the government remained without standardized formal procedures for whole-of-government use. However, during the year the PPO established an electronic program to monitor all reports received by PPO departments across the country and flag cases with trafficking indicators; flagged cases were shared with the PPO’s anti-trafficking unit and the NCCHT to handle such cases and identify potential victims involved. The NCCHT remained responsible for referring identified victims and potential victims to protection services, which included the provision of shelter, health care, and legal assistance. The NCCHT received referrals for potential cases from MOL, an international organization, MOI, and PPO as well as through its own complaint mechanism; upon receiving a complaint, the committee worked to verify trafficking indicators existed and if so, referred the case to law enforcement for further investigation. Following verification of trafficking indicators, the NCCHT reported it referred identified and potential victims to care immediately while the relevant case was investigated by law enforcement. However, the NCCHT took between one and three days to assess credibility of a complaint before referring a potential victim to shelter; this process, coupled with the committee being the only government entity that could formally refer a potential victim to shelter, may have delayed some victims from receiving adequate care.
The government had a trafficking-specific shelter, designated for both male and female victims and consisting of six refurbished villas with a maximum capacity of 160 residents. The shelter was managed by the Qatari Red Crescent Society (QRCS) through an agreement with the government, had an annual budget of nearly 3 million QR ($824,180), and was equipped with a health center, computer lab, dining facility, and laundry room. Following a March 2020 pandemic-related shelter closure, the government reopened the shelter in October 2022. Victims were provided shelter, food, basic health services, legal services, internet access for publicly available job listings, repatriation support, and psychological services; victims who required psychological services were referred to outside medical care as the shelter did not provide such services. The government reported victims were not able to work during their stay at the shelter and could not leave unescorted. Officials noted the maximum stay for victims was two weeks; if needed, victims’ stay could be extended to cover any pending judicial issues. Although victims could not work during their time as shelter residents, the NCCHT reported 32 identified victims’ legal status was amended to allow them to remain in Qatar and seek new work opportunities during legal proceedings following their temporary stay at the shelter. If victims chose to remain in the shelter, they could not work, but were given funds to purchase personal items outside of what was provided in the shelter. The government shelter did not provide long-term care options to victims and did not allow potential victims to self-refer. As many victims desired to return to work during their legal proceedings, they chose to leave the shelter and find a new sponsor following their temporary stay; this policy may have limited the long-term care victims received – specifically related to rehabilitative services and psychosocial support.
The government-funded Aman Protection and Social Rehabilitation Center also continued to provide basic medical care, social services, psychological treatment, housing, repatriation assistance, and reintegration for female and child victims of domestic abuse, including female workers who fled abusive employers. The Aman Center could host child trafficking victims in coordination with the NCCHT but the government did not report identifying or referring child victims to care during the reporting period. Aman provided repatriation assistance to those who wished to return to their home countries. Residents had the right to leave of their own volition without supervision, although chaperones were on-call in the event security was needed; residents also could access the shelter even if their employers’ filed charges against them. Several foreign diplomatic missions ran all-purpose shelters for their female nationals, including Indonesia, Kenya, Sri Lanka, and the Philippines. In the previous reporting period, the government referred all five victims to their respective embassies for care as the government shelter was closed. The NCCHT reported victims could work directly with their respective embassies instead of the government to receive care if they so choose; although such diplomatic missions did not report if they assisted any trafficking victims during the reporting period.
The government generally encouraged victims to testify against traffickers by providing legal counseling, ensuring their safety, and allowing them to pursue financial compensation; the NCCHT reported it recommended victims remain in Qatar until the closure of their legal case, but would provide airline tickets to victims who desired to repatriate prior to a verdict. However, authorities did not offer such protections in all cases, and many workers still opted to return home rather than remain in the country to assist in legal proceedings against traffickers. Through the MOI, victims could change employers in cases of violated contractual terms, such as employers not paying the victim or forcing them to work excessive hours. The government reported 31 victims participated in legal proceedings and received new work permits to continue working in Qatar in 2022. The law stated the complaining party could reside in Qatar pending resolution of legal proceedings. The government reported it did not deport those who faced retaliation or retribution in their country of origin and repatriated during the year two victims identified in previous reporting periods. The government reported victims could obtain restitution from defendants in criminal cases; during the year, the government reported courts issued several judgements for victim compensation ranging from 50,000 QR ($13,740) to 300,000 QR ($82,420).
Although some officials used victim identification guidelines, the government remained without standardized victim identification procedures and some government entities did not proactively screen for trafficking indicators among vulnerable populations, including domestic workers, as well as migrant workers who fled abusive employers or sought remedy for labor abuses such as wage theft. Generally, government agencies did not categorize the abuse of a domestic worker as a potential trafficking indicator due to lack of evidence or witnesses and therefore sometimes failed to identify victims; in other cases, some domestic workers voluntarily left the country in lieu of filing complaints or pursuing charges against traffickers. Because officials did not have standardized identification procedures and did not screen for trafficking indicators, some unidentified trafficking victims were likely detained and deported for contravening Qatari labor and immigration laws —unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being trafficked – or reporting labor abuses indicative of labor trafficking, such as wage theft, excessive work hours, denial of end-of-service benefits, threats of salary reduction and ill treatment. For example, in August 2022, media and rights groups reported officials arrested and subsequently deported 60 migrant workers – from Bangladesh, Egypt, India, Nepal, and the Philippines – for “breaching security laws” after publicly protesting unpaid wages and benefits and early termination from the engineering company that employed them; the workers had not been paid in at least six months. The government reported it was investigating the wage theft claims and promised to pay all delayed salaries and benefits to the workers, but did not screen the individuals for trafficking indicators or investigate the case as a potential trafficking crime, despite the severity of wage theft. Potential victims who lodged complaints were sometimes the subject of spurious counter-charges from their employers that resulted in administrative deportation proceedings. Officials reported they did not consider “absconding” charges until after the resolution of existing labor disputes or criminal proceedings, including trafficking crimes, although labor attachés and worker advocates noted that in practice it was often difficult for workers to overcome the burden of such charges. Police often detained workers without legal status for immigration violations and fleeing their employers or sponsors, including potential trafficking victims. Police sometimes detained workers for their sponsors’ failure to register them or renew their residency documents as required by Qatari law. The PPO’s specialized trafficking unit reported it continued to receive requests to remove individuals from MOI’s “absconding” “watchlist” who were identified as potential victims of trafficking or trafficking-related crimes and therefore advocated to legalize such individual’s residency status. Furthermore, MOL reported MOI’s system that tracked “absconding” charges was linked with MOL’s system during the year to ensure officials could address false “absconding” charges used as a form of reprisal by employers. In 2022, MOI also enacted procedural changes which no longer allowed employers to file “absconding” charges if a worker had an ongoing complaint on file with MOL and had to provide additional information, including whether there were outstanding salaries owed to the worker, before filing such a charge. Between January and September 2022, the MOL reactivated 284 Qatari IDs (QID) after receiving written requests from migrant workers whose employers either filed false “absconding” charges or failed to renew their residency documents. However, officials acknowledged in order to have residency extended and a QID reinstated, the burden of finding a new job and sponsor was on the worker while dealing with an “absconding” charge.
The government maintained limited prevention efforts. The NCCHT met four times during the reporting period to implement its 2019-2022 NAP to combat trafficking, which focused on prevention, protection, prosecution, and regional and international cooperation; the committee reported it was preparing a new NAP for 2023, but did not complete it by the close of the reporting period. The government continued its technical cooperation program with the ILO’s Doha office during the reporting period, slated to end December 2023. The program continued to build the government’s anti-trafficking capacity and generate sustainable labor reform efforts.
Article 33 of Qatari Labor Law No. 14 of 2004 prohibited recruitment agencies from receiving recruitment or placement fees from workers. In 2017, in an effort to address reports that workers supporting infrastructure projects for the November 2022 FIFA World Cup had paid exorbitant recruitment fees to come to Qatar and work, the SCDL – the lead Qatari agency for preparation for the event – began requiring companies and contractors to reimburse workers for recruitment fees they paid in their home country. However, employees under SCDL oversight only made up approximately 50,000 out of a total two million low-wage migrant workers in Qatar. Furthermore, media and NGOs continued to report migrant workers in Qatar frequently paid illegal recruitment fees to unregulated agents in labor-source countries. However, an investigation conducted by an international human rights group between October 2021 and October 2022 found that although origin country recruitment agencies frequently charged workers illegal recruitment fees, Qatar-based businesses sometimes contributed to the issue by imposing costs on recruitment agencies that were subsequently passed down to workers. Incurred costs included employers refusing to pay the full cost and fees to hire a worker; in several cases, the international rights group’s investigation found that staff of Qatar-based companies required recruiters to pay for their travel and accommodation costs for interview trips to origin countries; such fees were ultimately levied on workers. In other instances, Qatar-based companies paid the full cost, but recruitment agencies also charged workers. Migrant workers who incurred debt to pay recruitment fees remained vulnerable to conditions of forced labor, as they may have stayed longer in exploitive situations to pay off that debt; further, as many workers also experienced wage theft, delayed payment or denied overtime pay, they were unable to pay their debts for more extended periods, rendering them in situations of debt bondage. The government continued to utilize Qatar Visa Centers (QVC) in six critical labor source countries (providing 80 percent of the total workforce in Qatar) including Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan, the Philippines, and Sri Lanka. The centers were responsible for finalizing all procedural elements pertaining to labor recruitment, including fingerprinting, medical examinations, verifying educational certificates, signing contracts in local languages, issuing Qatari residency permits prior to source country departure, opening bank accounts for workers, and attempting to ensure Qatari employers paid all recruitment fees. Although QVCs reduced instances of contract-switching, rights groups and NGOs noted QVCs did not address workers who paid recruitment fees to brokers prior to visiting the centers as QVCs handled only the end of the recruitment process. As of October 2022, all QVCs – with the exception of centers in the Philippines – processed domestic worker visas using a revised standard domestic worker employment contract approved by MOL in 2021. Previously, the QVCs did not accommodate domestic worker applications.
MOL continued to oversee issuance of licensing and regulation of recruitment agencies and companies through inspections and monitoring for employment and immigration violations; it also continued to use its hotline and dedicated email address to receive public complaints related to non-compliant conduct of recruitment agencies. Between January and September 2022, it revoked the licenses of 56 recruitment agencies for violating the labor law. As of October 2022, the government also conducted 23,384 workplace and accommodations visits (compared with 15,327 inspections in 2021), which resulted in 8,816 violation reports and referrals to the PPO, up from 4,026 reported violations during the previous reporting period. Analogous to previous years, the government did not provide a breakdown of the kinds of violations found via inspections and neither MOL nor PPO reported investigating any of these violations as potential trafficking crimes, despite worker-paid recruitment fees remaining a well-known trafficking indicator.
MOL also continued to handle worker complaints; between October 2021 and October 2022, MOL received 34,425 complaints from workers in-person and online (most were submitted online); nearly 67 percent of these complaints were settled amicably (22,897 complaints), while the remainder were referred to the LDRCs to be handled in court. MOL would only refer worker complaints to the LDRC if it could not be resolved within one week. As of October 2022, the LDRCs received 10,565 labor-related complaints – mostly non-payment of wages, denied end of service benefits, and annual leave denied or not being paid – but the government did not report the number of verdicts issued or if any complaints remained pending at the close of the reporting period. The government reported it mostly issued verdicts in favor of employees and not employers; in 2022, the government reported 84 percent of verdicts issued were in favor of workers. The law mandated the LDRCs reach resolution within three weeks for any contract or labor dispute; however, NGOs and media sources consistently reported cases took significantly longer to resolve in practice and in many instances of non-payment or delayed payment of wages, the worker did not receive the wages they were owed because the verdict rendered by the LDRC could not be enforced unless the worker filed a separate case in civil court. In an effort to expedite resolution of complaints, implement verdicts, and increase accessibility for workers, the government added two additional committees, increasing the number of LDRCs to five; three committees opened in October 2022 in close proximity to where most migrant workers resided, and two others remained at MOL. The government also reported both locations included judgement enforcement teams with the goal to implement verdicts issued by the LDRCs as quickly as possible; nonetheless, officials acknowledged that no timeframe existed for final sentencing and enforcement of the verdict in the Sentence Implementation Court after the LDRC made a decision. The government did not report if the LDRCs were able to refer cases with trafficking indicators to the MOI or PPO for investigation despite the committees almost exclusively handling cases of non- or delayed-payment of wages, a significant trafficking indicator.
NGOs reported several examples where LDRCs rendered verdicts in favor of workers for wage theft, but employers refused or were unable to provide the worker overdue salaries. To address this, the government continued to use its Worker’s Support Fund – which became operational in 2020 – and was funded through mandatory employer contributions of 120 QR ($33) per worker per year – to provide compensation to workers in such cases. In September 2022, the fund provided 1.17 billion QR ($320.14 million) to 37,000 workers; this was a significant increase compared with 2021 when the fund provided 55 million QR ($15.11 million) to 3,082 workers. Although more workers received unpaid salaries and other missing wages during the year, an international organization noted such large amounts disbursed demonstrated the scale of wage theft for workers in Qatar. Moreover, despite the goal of the fund, NGOs and rights groups reported concerns regarding unclear guidance on a worker’s eligibility, an opaque decision-making process, and fear among workers of employer retaliation for seeking to use the fund. Additionally, neither the LDRCs nor Workers Support Fund covered expenses workers incurred while attempting to retrieve unpaid wages, including transportation to and from the LDRCs and documentation costs; such costs coupled with missing wages rendered the worker vulnerable to further exploitation, including trafficking. In April 2022, through decision No. 2 of 2022, the government issued procedures for disbursing worker’s entitlements through the Worker’s Support Fund; this decision set out parameters for the selection of cases eligible for the fund and established caps on how much can be paid out per worker. One rights group asserted establishing caps on disbursements was problematic, as most workers file complaints after several months of non-payment (meaning the allocated amount paid within the cap would not cover the total missing wages) and such caps did not account for end-of-service benefits. Moreover, caps for domestic workers were severely lower than private sector workers, despite the minimum wage also applying to this population. The April 2022 decision also indicated an electronic platform would be developed to receive applications and track follow-up payments, but the government did not report developing the system before the close of the reporting period.
The government continued to work to monitor instances of wage abuse through its Wage Protection System (WPS), which required employers to pay workers electronically on a timely basis in accordance with the labor law and automatically alerted officials to instances of non-payment or delayed payment of wages. The government reported 89 percent of migrant workers received payments via the system, while 67,128 companies were registered for wage disbursements through this mechanism during the reporting year; however, an international organization reported the other 11 percent were paid in cash – a violation of the labor law. The WPS continued to exclude workers not covered by the labor law, including domestic workers, sea and agricultural workers, government employees, casual workers, and workers in the petroleum sector; however, MOL and the Qatar Central Bank continued to facilitate domestic workers’ access to bank accounts, thereby enhancing their wage protection and reducing their risk to exploitation. MOL’s WPS unit worked to detect non-compliance in the system and subsequently penalize companies and employers; however; MOL’s enforcement efforts depended on the PPO as it lacked the formal authority to issue fines or other stringent penalties. Accordingly, during the reporting year, MOL blacklisted 17,107 companies for non-compliance with the WPS, which barred the companies from placing public bids, applying for bank loans, seeking new projects, or recruiting new employees and transferring employees. An international organization noted the WPS only flagged cases of wage theft when they amounted to more than half of the workers’ monthly salary. Given this limitation, one rights group asserted arbitrary and unfair penalties against a worker’s salary went undetected in the system. Although MOL could refer companies to the PPO for criminal proceedings, referrals to the PPO were rare, as wage abuse cases could be lengthy in court. Furthermore, observers noted officials were likely to issue several warnings before taking legal action to hold companies accountable for wage abuse, and in some cases, did not take action at all. For example, in April 2022, an international rights group notified the government of eight private security companies allegedly subjecting their employees to conditions indicative of forced labor, including being forced to work excessively long hours, denied weekly rest days, threats of salary reduction for taking a weekly rest day, and non-payment of wages. The government identified one report of wage abuse via the WPS, in which the company failed to pay 607 workers, and reported the company pledged to pay the outstanding salaries after “legal action” was taken; according to the international rights group, the government did not report conducting further inspections to hold employers accountable or investigating the case as a potential trafficking crime, despite multiple indicators present. In August 2020, the government announced a non-discriminatory minimum wage through Law No. 17 of 2020, which came into force in March 2021, applying to all workers in all sectors, including domestic workers. In addition to the basic minimum wage, the law required employers to ensure workers had decent accommodations and food, and the law stipulated allowances employers must provide for those provisions. Moreover, in conjunction with Law No. 17 of 2020, an international organization reported the WPS could also detect violations of payment below the minimum wage and food and accommodation allowances. Despite measures to monitor payments and help workers seek remedy for wage theft, NGOs and an international organization reported non-payment or delayed payment of wages continued to be one of the most common abuses of migrant workers.
The government continued to implement its January 2020 decision to extend the abolishment of the exit permit requirement to additionally allow workers not protected under the labor law, including domestic workers, workers of ministries and other government entities, public institutions, sea and agriculture workers, and workers employed in casual work, to depart Qatar without employer approval at any time during the course of an employment contract. Employers still had the right to designate as critical five percent of their workforce, who required employer approval prior to exiting the country; domestic workers could not be deemed critical. Since the reforms’ inception, worker’s rights organizations and labor-source embassy representatives continued to report that in general, migrant workers who desired to leave Qatar did so successfully without former employer approval. However, some NGOs continued to express concern domestic workers were still required to inform their employer in person 72 hours prior to their departure, as this requirement could give time to an abusive employer to use retaliatory measures against a worker to stop them from leaving Qatar.
The government continued to implement the removal of the No Objection Certificate (NOC) –through amendments to law No. 18 and law No. 19 of 2020 – which allowed all workers, including domestic workers, to change jobs without permission of their employers after fulfilling certain conditions including completing a probationary period and serving notice. The government included a provision in these amendments to ensure all workers could change jobs without the notice period if the employer did not fulfill their legal obligations to the worker, such as endangering the worker’s health, assaulting the worker, or misrepresenting contract terms. NGOs and rights groups continued to report several obstacles during implementation of the reform that limited workers’ job mobility, including some companies still requiring prospective employees to have an NOC or equivalent, such as a resignation letter signed and stamped by the former employee, while other employers illegally requested fees from workers to “release” them to a new job, even in cases where the worker had completed their contract. Reports continued of employers retaliating against an employee who initiated a transfer by canceling their visa or filing an “absconding” charge prior to the transfer being completed or during the required notice period – rendering the worker illegal and at increased risk of trafficking, detention, or deportation. Domestic workers faced the greatest obstacles when attempting to change jobs – most workers’ new employers still required an NOC or “release paper”; because most former employers refused to provide this, domestic workers may have been forced to remain in exploitive situations. Some workers did not seek transfers for fear of threats and retaliation from their employer. An international organization reported out of the 348,455 approved applications to change jobs between November 2020 and August 2022, 5.6% were for domestic workers. However, NGOs noted this total number of approved transfers did not disaggregate how many workers managed to do so without securing the permission of their employer. Separately, during this same period, 183,835 applications were rejected by MOL; an international organization reported some rejections occurred when new employers were blocked from recruitment due to violating the law or not having the correct permits. The government took some steps to address implementation gaps, such as the aforementioned linking between MOL and MOI’s systems to ensure employers could not charge workers with “absconding” as a retaliatory measure for seeking to change jobs. Nonetheless, NGOs and rights groups reported cases where workers’ transfer applications were slowed or cancelled due to “absconding” charges, suggesting inadequate implementation. In other instances, officials did not allow workers to change jobs even if they appeared qualified to do so. For example, in the aforementioned case where 60 workers were deported after protesting wage theft, officials reportedly denied the workers their ability to change employers after the workers asked and threatened them with imprisonment and fines if they attempted to do so. Overall, NGOs reported although the removal of the exit permit and the abolishment of the NOC were improvements, the sponsorship system would continue to persist as long as both the employee’s work and residence visas were tied to an employer and employers could continue to take retaliatory actions against a worker as a means of unliterally controlling their workforce without being held accountable or penalized.
The March 2018 domestic worker law stipulated domestic workers were required to have government-verified contracts; to receive adequate employer-provided food, accommodation, medical benefits, one day off per week, limited 10-hour workdays, sick leave, return flight tickets once each year, three weeks paid vacation per year, and full end-of-service payments; to be guaranteed access to the dispute resolution committees to resolve workplace grievances; and to be allowed to leave their employers in cases of exploitation or violation of contract terms. NGOs reported concerns the 2018 law left several provisions vague, including mechanisms to ensure employers actually paid workers or provided entitled annual leave; additionally, details on the allotted weekly day off and food and accommodation standards were limited. The law did not refer to paid overtime and allowed for a workday that exceeded the 10-hour limit if there was an agreement between the employer and employee. According to the law, employers who breached their obligations on key provisions related to working hours, living conditions, weekly rest day, annual leave, and end of service benefits should receive a fine, which could be doubled if the employer failed to pay the worker on time. In 2021, in partnership with an international organization, the government adopted a revised standard employment contract for domestic workers; the revised contract specified additional rights for workers and provided clarity on the terms and conditions of their employment. The new standard employment contract aligned domestic workers’ rights with those of private sector workers, specifically in overtime payment, termination of employment and sick leave entitlements. The government reported both private recruitment agencies and QVCs used the revised domestic worker contract. MOL inspectors remained without authority to conduct inspections in private residences without written permission from the PPO, limiting its ability to enforce protections outlined in the law and identify key trafficking indicators or potential trafficking victims from inspections. Although domestic workers have been able to file grievances with the LDRCs since 2018, workers rarely filed complaints due to prolonged court proceedings, the uncertainty the employee would receive the wages they were owed even if the dispute ended in the employee’s favor, fear of retaliation from employers, and the limited scope in types of complaints the committees handle. NGOs and rights groups continued to report instances of domestic worker exploitation – including conditions indicative of forced labor such as passport confiscation, excessive working hours, physical, sexual and emotional abuse, non-payment of wages, and threats of use of force during the year.
In September 2021, the government notified all companies supporting infrastructure projects related to the World Cup to complete their work and “reduce inessential expatriate workforce” by September 2022, prior to the tournament’s November 20 start date, and lasting until January 18, 2023. NGO and rights groups reported that, despite the announcement’s instructions that companies’ strategic plans “should not adversely impact the migrant workers’ well-being,” workers supporting such projects were terminated prior to their contract ending without proper notice, without receiving their full wages or end-of service benefits. As many workers were not paid regularly and experienced wage theft, they were sent home without the salaries owed to them while others were placed on “long-term leave”, which left them without end-of-service benefits. Prior to termination, some rights groups asserted workers’ conditions deteriorated as companies rushed to complete tournament infrastructure; workers experienced extended work hours without overtime compensation, misuse of short-term visas, and withholding of end-of-service benefits. As many workers also continued to pay illegal recruitment fees, terminated workers remained severely in debt and vulnerable to exploitation due to their undocumented status as they sought unregulated employment in Qatar. Following the end of the tournament, an international organization reported the increased use of “free visas,” where recruitment agencies sold workers visas to work for employers other than their sponsor, an illegal practice in Qatar.
In the lead up to the World Cup in November 2022, the NCCHT, SCDL, and an international organization held multiple trainings for migrant workers in the hospitality sector to raise awareness and educate workers on their rights. MFA and NCCHT members also lectured at Qatar University on human trafficking and how to identify possible cases. The MOI’s anti-trafficking unit and MOJ launched a social media campaign in multiple languages to raise awareness on how to report trafficking crimes and ways to seek support and protection for potential victims. In addition, MOL collaborated with an international organization and the IDWF to raise awareness of the domestic worker law, standard employment contract, complaint mechanisms, processes for changing jobs, and occupational safety and health through a series of information sessions and workshops provided to domestic workers, including those from Ethiopia, India, Kenya, and the Philippines. In addition, MOL, in partnership with an NGO, continued to publish two informational booklets aimed at raising awareness of domestic worker rights; the booklet aimed at workers was disseminated in 12 languages while the booklet targeting employers was disseminated in two languages. MOL collaborated with an international organization and the IDWF in conjunction with International Domestic Workers’ Day in June 2022 to organize a panel discussion with representatives of the domestic worker community in Qatar, IDWF, MOL and MOI to highlight the impact of labor reforms on domestic workers, challenges faced by this population and the role of recruitment agencies in promoting decent work conditions. During the event, a photo exhibition named “Domestic Workers’ Day Off” was installed to raise awareness around workers’ right to take a weekly paid day off; MOL amplified the event on social media to raise awareness of the domestic worker’s law. The government continued to use multiple hotlines – from MOI’s anti-trafficking section, the NCCHT, and MOL to receive notifications of trafficking cases; although the government reported it received calls during the year, none of the calls received were related to human trafficking. The government maintained 50 bilateral agreements and five MOUs with labor-source countries that addressed recruitment issues and worker rights, and it coordinated with individual countries to certify vetted labor recruitment offices to reduce fraud or excessive debts that could facilitate labor trafficking. The government did not take action to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts. The government provided anti-trafficking training to its diplomatic personnel.
As reported over the past five years, human traffickers exploit foreign victims in Qatar. Men and women from Bangladesh, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Kenya, Nepal, Pakistan, the Philippines, Sudan, Uganda, and other countries voluntarily migrate to Qatar as unskilled laborers and domestic workers, often paying illegal and exorbitant fees to unscrupulous recruiters in their home countries, thereby increasing their vulnerability to debt bondage. Many migrant workers subsequently face conditions indicative of labor trafficking, to include restricted movement, excessive hours, delayed salaries or payment withholding, denial of employment-associated benefits, passport confiscation, and threats of salary withholding and deportation; in a small number of cases, migrant workers face physical, mental, and sexual abuse as well as threats of serious physical or financial harm. Anecdotally, sex traffickers force some women who migrate for legitimate employment offers to engage in commercial sex. There were approximately 400 Cuban nationals working at the Cuban Hospital in Dukhan who may have been forced to work by the Cuban government. An NGO reported Cuban workers employed in Qatar were vulnerable to abuses including sexual harassment, coerced enrollment into the medical mission program, surveillance, exploitation, restriction of movement, and passport confiscation. According to a former participant, officials confiscated the workers’ passports and confined them to a compound with prearranged activities and 24-hour surveillance. The bilateral agreement between the Cuban and Qatari governments stipulated that Cuban health workers receive wages from the Cuban government rather than directly from their Qatari employers. Cuban workers who arrived in 2020 to support Qatari hospitals during the pandemic reportedly returned to Cuba in August 2021. PRC nationals employed in Qatar at worksites affiliated with the PRC’s Belt and Road Initiative experienced forced labor indicators such as deceptive recruitment, contract irregularities, passport retention, and arbitrary wage garnishing or nonpayment of wages.
Qatar’s unskilled migrant workers are the largest group at risk of trafficking; those employed as domestic workers remain the most vulnerable, although men in the construction, food delivery and security sector – who were employed at higher rates prior to and during the November 2022 World Cup – frequently experience indicators of labor trafficking such as wage theft, excessive hours, denial of overtime fees, and threats of salary withholding. Many businesses – specifically those who had infrastructure projects supporting the World Cup – reportedly fail to pay their expatriate employees in a timely manner or at all, forcing workers to choose between leaving the country with heavy debts or staying in Qatar with the hope of eventually being paid. Unscrupulous recruiters in source countries and employers in Qatar exploit economic migration to prey on prospective workers. Predatory recruitment agencies in labor-source countries extract inflated fees from aspiring migrant workers or lure them to Qatar with fraudulent employment contracts, rendering workers vulnerable to forced labor once in the country. Among foreign workers, domestic workers are particularly vulnerable to trafficking, as they work in isolation in private residences. Awareness and enforcement of the labor law providing rights to migrant and domestic workers remains limited. Many businesses reportedly fail to pay their expatriate employees in a timely manner or at all, forcing workers to choose between leaving the country with heavy debts or staying in Qatar with the hope of eventually being paid. Systemic hurdles continue to limit victim protection and access to justice, especially for domestic workers, who remained highly vulnerable to forced labor.
In September 2021, the government notified all companies supporting infrastructure projects related to the World Cup to complete their work and “reduce inessential expatriate workforce” by September 2022, prior to the tournament’s November 20 start date, and lasting until January 18, 2023. NGO and rights groups reported that, despite the announcement’s instructions that companies’ strategic plans “should not adversely impact the migrant workers’ well-being,” workers supporting such projects were terminated prior to their contract ending without proper notice, without receiving their full wages or end-of service benefits. As many workers were not paid regularly and experienced wage theft, they were sent home without the salaries owed to them while others were placed on “long-term leave,” which left them without end-of-service benefits. Prior to termination, rights groups asserted worker’s conditions deteriorated as companies rushed to complete tournament infrastructure; workers experienced extended work hours without overtime compensation, misuse of short-term visas, and withholding of end-of-service benefits. As many workers also continued to pay illegal recruitment fees, terminated workers remained severely in debt and vulnerable to exploitation due to their undocumented status as they sought unregulated employment in Qatar. Following the end of the tournament, an international organization reported the increased use of “free visas,” where recruitment agencies sold workers visas to work for employers other than their sponsor, an illegal practice in Qatar. This practice leaves migrant workers without legal recourse against their respective sponsors who sometimes seek regular payments from workers to continue to sponsor them.
Qatar’s visa employment-based sponsorship system, while undergoing significant reform, continues to place control disproportionately in the hands of employers, who have unilateral power to cancel residence permits or file counter-charges against workers to prevent them from exercising their rights under the most recent reforms. Until August 2020, employers were able to prevent workers from changing employers and deny permission for them to leave the country. Debt-laden migrants who face abuse or are misled often avoid reporting their exploitation due to fear of reprisal or deportation, the protracted recourse process, or lack of knowledge of their legal rights, thereby exacerbating or prolonging their forced labor situation. Many migrant workers often live in confined, unsanitary conditions, and many complain of excessive working hours and hazardous working conditions. Reports allege the vast majority of expatriate workers’ passports were in their employers’ possession, despite laws against passport confiscation.