Saturday, April 4, 2009

More Government idiocy being considered - Imprison all expats in Oman!

Hope you all had a nice weekend - cool weather, a little bit of rain, but no major storm (at least so far!). More rain forecast for the next 2 to 3 days, but as long as it keeps coming in spurts, excellent news. It is amazing how beautiful the temperature gets when we have some decent cloud cover. More thunder and heavy rain likely tomorrow, BTW.

Meanwhile, Oman continues to try to improve their current status as 'Tier 3 / Tier 2 watch list' in the upcoming 2009 US State Dept Human Trafficking Report.

As it has already been agreed that expat workers in Oman are entitled to hold onto their own passports (even though many still have their passport kept illegally by their 'employers', a crime for which there is no defined punishment anyhow), the problem is now seen as this:

How can an Omani sponsor stop his expats leaving the country without 'permission' if he can't legally confiscate their passports?

Ah ha! Easy. We'll invent a new document called an "Exit Pass" that would be required from the sponsor before any expat is allowed to leave Oman, even temporarily, passport or not! See report in Gulf News. [thanks for the tip AM]

Yes. Turn all of Oman into a giant prison for all non-GCC expats, unless they have written permission to leave from their owner 'Sponsor'. Problem solved!

This proposal totally misses the point (I hope readers can figure that out). It may allow Oman's National Committee for Getting out of Human Trafficking Report Tier 3 Combating Human Trafficking to tick the box on 'Expats don't have passports confiscated anymore', but maintains in practice that 'Expats would still not able to leave the country without permission from their sponsor'.

And in the process would create a whole new load of paperwork before any expat could even drive to Dubai, and henceforth there would be two classes of expats: those with a magic exit permit [aka free men], and those without [aka slaves - Check out the recent book on Modern Slavery: A Crime So Monstrous].

That such a proposal is even considered provides a revealing glimpse of how most Expats are still thought of by the powers that be in Oman - as a resource to be used and controlled via coertion.

Even now, an Expat in Oman is effectively owned by his or her Omani sponsor. You have 4 choices:
(1) work for your sponsor, and if you have a problem with wages, your treatment or other contractual aspects, complain to the Ministry of Manpower, or;
(2) leave the country (if you have your passport and labour card), or;
(3) get permission from your sponsor to transfer to a new sponsor (usually for a significant fee), or;
(4) abscond and work illegally for someone else, thus being subject to arrest, fines, imprisonment and deportation.

But an expat cannot resign from one sponsor to work for another without permission from the original sponsor. It's a form of bonded labour. You can imagine the power this gives an Omani sponsor over an employee whose only option is being sent on a one-way flight back to their miserable home country, and who perhaps might not be treated very well while they wait for their complaint with the MoM or the backed up court system to be processed.

Now, an argument would be that if expats don't want to work in such a system they can choose not to come here. But few expats realise that this is they way Oman works before getting here, perhaps thinking that an Omani work visa is similar to how it would be in the UK or US, where the Government has given you a right to seek employment relatively freely. And most low paid expats here have little choice anyhow - they are here out of desperation to earn money to send home. But that is exactly why Governments should protect such powerless people from being overly exploited.

If they are truly serious about Human Rights, Oman needs to think properly about how it could improve the way it treats expats, especially low-paid labour from the 3rd world, and protect them from such effective slavery. The answer is not to just turn the entire country into a prison, just so that we can claim expats have a travel document, albeit one that is useless for actually travelling.

And perhaps we should re-read the 1926 International Slavery Convention while we're at it:

Slavery was defined(Art.1) as:
"the status or condition of a person over whom any or all of the powers attaching to the right of ownership are exercised"

and the slave trade was defined to include:

"all acts involved in the capture, acquisition or disposal of a person with intent to reduce him to slavery; all acts involved in the acquisition of a slave with a view to selling or exchanging him; all acts of disposal by sale or exchange of a slave acquired with a view to being sold or exchanged, and, in general, every act of trade or transport in slaves."

here's the news article from yesterday's Gulf News:

Oman considers exit pass for expatriates
By Sunil K. Vaidya, Bureau Chief
Published: April 03, 2009, 23:02

Muscat: Oman is considering a proposal to introduce 'exit permits' for expatriate residents even as the police chief has identified three forms of human trafficking prevalent in the country.

Lieutenant General Malek Bin Sulaiman Al Maamari, Oman's Inspector General of Police and Customs, said that the National Committee for Combating Human Trafficking would prepare a draft on combating various aspects of human trafficking and it would be completed within three months.

"Protecting the rights of foreign work force is part of the proposed draft," the police chief told media at the end of the first meeting of the Committee at the Royal Oman Police headquarters.

"The Manpower Ministry has done a lot to guarantee the rights of workers but there are some small details that need to be looked into, including [the] right to keep [one's] passport," he said.

"[A] passport is a private document and every employee has the right to keep the same with him or her," he said but added that the employers also needed some form of guarantee that employees would not leave dubiously.

Therefore, the committee discussed a proposal where every expatriate would be required to obtain a clearance letter from the employer or sponsor before leaving the country.

"It is like 'exit pass' that is in practice in some of the other GCC countries," he told Gulf News.

In Saudi Arabia and Qatar, foreign workers have to obtain exit permit to leave the country. The police chief stressed that the committee only discussed the proposal on clearance letters for expatriate leaving Oman.

"If accepted every expatriate will have to seek [an] exit permit even before going on leave," Al Maamari said.
Oman is a home to about 750,000 foreign workers, and the majority of them are currently required to hand over their passports to their employers.

However, the new move is set to allow them to keep their passports.

The chairman of the National Committee for Combating Human Trafficking also admitted that prostitution, trade in human organs and child labour had afflicted Oman.

Authorities had so far uncovered only one case of human trafficking, relating to prostitution.

"We have arrested seven Omani nationals and four expatriates of other nationalities for forcing women into prostitution," he said.

He said that victims of the prostitution racket were sheltered at a centre run by the authorities and that they were well looked after. He also said the women were even escorted when they went shopping or undertook leisure trips. He also the victims would be sent back to their home country once legal proceedings were concluded and rulings delivered.

He said it was bitter to note that some countries demanding human rights observance by all nations had legalised prostitution as a profession and even ensure benefits accrued to prostitutes.

"It [prostitution] may be the oldest profession in human history but our religion does not tolerate this," the top Omani police officer reiterated.

Al Maamari said that the problem of illegal immigrants entering Oman along the Batina coast was a continuing development.

"We arrest almost 30 to 40 illegal immigrants every day along the coast and currently there are over 1,000 people from Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan languishing in our detention centres for illegally entering the country," he said.

He admitted that the nation was faced with a complex challenge in the form of human traffickers from Pakistan as well as Iran.


  1. I am totally against this exit pass system, and I agree with most of what you said.

    Have to correct what you wrote though, NOC is no longer required for an expat to change sponsorship. This system was canceled about 4 years ago. You need the NOC if you want to change visa without leaving the country, but if your sponsor refuses to give the NOC, then you just leave the country and come back to stamp the new visa, even if you fly to Dubai and back. Previously, without the sponsor's NOC you can't even do that. Without the NOC you were effectively blacklisted from working in Oman for 2 years unless the previous sponsors allows you to return.

  2. Good piece of writing Dragon. There are lot of alligators in the 'ex-pat' swamp. Brave is the explorer that goes there.

    Several things in the article struck me. First was the pubic admission- "The chairman of the National Committee for Combating Human Trafficking also admitted that prostitution, trade in human organs and child labour had afflicted Oman."

    Secondly the Police Chief says "The Manpower Ministry has done a lot to guarantee the rights of workers but there are some small details that need to be looked into, including [the] right to keep [one's] passport." Usually it is reported the EVERYTHING is OK, now at least we are admitting that 'small details' need to be addressed.

    Lastly, for now, why is it that if we want to read the real news from Oman, we have to read a Dubai newspaper. At least I assume Gulf News is from Dubai. Abd

  3. I say give the expats their passports and their freedom of changing a job or leaving the country.

    There is something called "TRUST" and that is how we should employ people. I know some expats might abuse the freedom if given, but we have to trust that these will be the minority.

    I heard all kind of stories of expats running away because they had their passports, but I also heard lots of stories about abuse from sponsors because they were holding the passports. Lets free people and take it that things will improve.

    By this we will create a working environment that will attract better employees and skills, which will result in a better Oman.

  4. This news was in today's Oman Observer as well. Please don't sensationalize by saying that it was only reported in non-Omani press.

  5. What does this mean for all expats now ? Is there a specific format for an Exit Pass ?
    Or does the company just issue a letter saying so and so is free to leave the country ? :P

    And hey hangon.. all those people who are illegaly present in the country who want to leave, cannot leave either ! For nobody will issue an exit pass to them.

  6. I am not an employer in Oman. I have no expertise or ambition to be an employment lawyer and the following comments are based on unease with the tendency to ignore a complex employment setting in pursuit of a PC cry of “free the workers!” Perhaps we should be cautioned by the recent recessionary consequences of a belief that the unfettered market is magic. I welcome challenges to my lay person’s understanding. In particular I suspect that there are costs and benefits for all parties involved in the prevailing arrangements. If these arrangements are to be unraveled this will require care to avoid unintended consequences for all.

    I am in support of the removal of barriers against international trade but it is unfair to deride local employers as slavers without acknowledging that ‘sponsors’ can have considerable obligations for those that they sponsor. Contracts of employment are framed within a context of labour market supply and demand conditions, legal constraints and national priorities. Employer/sponsor and employee both agree certain conditions. If workers are able to be in constant search for immediate improvements by changing their employer then this should be balanced by greater freedom of the employer to abandon contracts and to HIRE and fire.

    Most expats in Oman are employed on a contract basis – unlike in many other national labour markets where there is a realistic opportunity for ‘walk - in employment’ (even of expat workers). Omanisation conditions the possibility of a free labour market and work permits are subject to quotas and other restrictions. Finding unplanned replacement labour can be very expensive because of restrictions and administrative delays. These delays are independent from supply/demand factors.

    The obligations of employer and employee are expressed in employment contracts and law. If an employee unilaterally leaves before completion of their agreed contract, the employer is then prevented from immediately seeking a replacement because of the requirements to demonstrate that they were not abusing their allocation of expat work permits, e.g. by covertly acting as an employment agency by administering the entry of expat labour with the illegal intention of facilitating their recruitment by another employer for a fee. Employers normally agree a minimum two year contract as a basis for recovering entry, recruitment and training costs. Also, unless there is good reason for termination, for the duration of the contract period, employers are currently usually assigned responsibility for:
    • Payment of wages, travel, accommodation and health insurance benefits.
    • Obtaining the scarce resource of visa and residence permits.
    • Paying entry and repatriation flight expenses.
    • Guaranteeing residential leases, the operation of employees’ bank accounts, general credit, telephone bills
    • Standing surety for the ‘good behaviour’ of employees (acting within the law).

    If employee obligations are cancelled and labour turnover is free wheeling, who will afford the opportunity of a flight to Oman to find employment? What employer will be able to train staff or provide planned accommodation? Maybe this is all possible if the employee is paid more and the customer is charged more? This would send a Tsunami through the local economy. Political Correctness is usually expensive and the profile of those who read this blog is probably a good match for those who would pay some of the price?

  7. How about you try getting a house maid for a thousand rials for her only to run a couple of weeks later.

    The law is being necessarily assertive here. Don't like it ? don't come, and please spare us the slavery dance, your 50 years of experience in the field still ranks you an amateur.

    Round up. You first talked about the rain, then you splashed around in the puddles a little, now don't forget to clean your feet before walking in again.

    Many pieces,

  8. T13GIB...?? I bet you feel good about yourself now for that comment! You showed him ha..!

    To the topic:

    UD: I agree with you, I think it is the wrong approach to solve the problem. However, I think there is a valid point here: "employers also needed some form of guarantee that employees would not leave dubiously."
    I am not talking about abusive employers, but those honest ones.

    From personal experience, my uncle had a housemaid. He paid about 2000 dollars for her paperwork, visa, flight, ..etc. He gave her $700 a month, room, food, medical insurance, her own bank account, and even bought her clothes. She worked 8 hours a day, one day off, and the reason he chose her to work for him is because her sister lived close. She ended up running away after 2 months.. All that and he can't replace her until he pays more money to clear her from being under his name..
    The question here: this guy invested so much in this employee, so how do you deal with a situation like this?

    I think Oman has a long way before they can even say, "small details that need to be looked into". I agree, it's a form of slavery, and I cannot say how many times I've heard the phrase.. "What can they do, they are too desperate!"

    Omani Dreamer

  9. Muscati- I must admit that I do not read the local press but I am not trying to 'sensationalize' their inadequacy, only point it out. I have a Google news feed set to "Oman". All of the 'real' news stories about Oman come from outside Oman. What does that say about the local press and their warm fuzzy feel good stories. Abd

  10. Dear reality,
    Let us be realistic. Please introspect as to why the maid had to desert your uncle, inspite of good pay and facilities. There will be some reason which your uncle will not tell you.
    Assuming that she ran away with her boyfriend, still there are ways to apprehend her and get compensation.
    However for this reason it is not fair to implement decadent systems like keeping away passport or enforcing exit pass. Just imagine an Omani going to work in Saudi and they give this sort of treatment to you, and you will realise, how horrible it is.

    "From personal experience, my uncle had a housemaid. He paid about 2000 dollars for her paperwork, visa, flight, ..etc. He gave her $700 a month, room, food, medical insurance, her own bank account, and even bought her clothes. She worked 8 hours a day, one day off, and the reason he chose her to work for him is because her sister lived close. She ended up running away after 2 months.. All that and he can't replace her until he pays more money to clear her from being under his name..
    The question here: this guy invested so much in this employee, so how do you deal with a situation like this?"

  11. Justcurious,

    She ran away to work somewhere else, illegally. Despite why she ran away, my uncle invested in her and she breached their agreement. He was not compensated (I mean common, its Oman!) My point here was not to say that an exit pass is a solution. I do think it is ridiculous and resolves nothing. However, I think the system itself from the roots is dysfunctional. There are so many restrictions towards everyone, yet it does not serve the honest employer nor the mistreated employee!

    I understand there are many housemaids and workers that are mistreated. But you guys need to realize that there are honest employers too in Oman.

    Also, you need to realize that there is a larger problem here. The people themselves don't understand why Oman is in Tier3/2 category for human trafficking. I had many relatives ask me in disbelief, and my only reply is: "you have someone who would work from 6am to 9pm, with 50 rials a month, visiting country once every two yrs, and being beaten.!"
    I should write a blog on this!

    Ps. I hope you do not read my "T13GIB comment" as anything but sarcasm.

  12. Quite frankly, yes, I'm quite proud.

    I've addressed the point, targeted the core issue, offered a solution, threw in a general insult, then a personal all while sparing everyone any tango.

    I really can't understand why anyone would be disappointed.

  13. TI3GIB

    Was just re-reading my post, and then your reply.

    Freedom of speech is so revealing. And you certainly didn't disappoint me mate.


    How I would love watching a new reality TV show - "T3 suddenly has only a Pakistani Passport...and has to try to survive!"

  14. You're welcome.

    So what's the deal with the 160 rial house helper ;)

    Please tell me you're fucking her on the side ?

  15. RealityinOman:

    I really appreciate your frankness and pragmatism. I believe there is a legal system for you to recover the money. In fact there are many cases in the courts in similar issues.

    Yes there are many good Omanis who treat their housemaid/labour well. However they are a minority. In majority of the cases the labour face abuse and mistreatment. What is required is an overall change of attitude. Our friend TI3GIB's posts reflects this attitude. Let his do his household work by himself for some time and he will realise his folly.

  16. For years, the Omani government has been telling us that 'passports are not being confiscated.'

    Arabs are honourable people, and not liars, only when they are dealing with equal people who belong to legitimate Arabian tribes.

    All others are treated in the time-honoured tradition of Arab/Islamic slavery. And in this tradition, a slave can only be allowed to travel with the permission of the owner.

    Regarding the 'maid running away', hire from a reputable agency and pay a good salary. Pay the fees to the hiring agency, and only the salary to the maid. But Oman will not license hiring agencies in other countries because: it defeats the purpose of slavery - 'indenture'. Read more about it on my blog on this issue:

  17. This "proposed exit pass" has not gone into effect? Or has it?

  18. i am an american and find it very interesting how close this sounds to the process my country went through to free it's slaves.they were seen as work animals to be kept and cared for as minimally as possible to keep them productive,a sound business practice.when the laws were changed to give them freedom, the owners did everything in their power to coerce them into staying.where were they to go? they had families to care for,no money, little to no schooling, all they knew was feildwork and tending a farm. so, sure it was their 'choice' to stay. it took about a hundred years for these 'workers' to gain full and equal rights. food for thought, as we say here.

  19. also i'll add that just because a 'sponsor' is nice,doesn't make it right. it doesn't mean it isn't slavery just because you're not beating or molesting the slave. what makes it slavery is the attitude of the 'sponsor' toward the 'employee' as less than him/herself and the lack of freedom for the employee to walk away. the fact that the sponsor pays so much initially just means they see it as an investment. and the fact that the employee chooses to enter into a contract like this speaks to their naivety and/or desperation. when the slaves were being freed in the us, the owners and slave drivers were outraged at their profit being taken away. it started a civil war. no one should have the right to take someone else's freedom away for their own gain. we need to acknowledge that everyone deserves basic human rights. everyone.

  20. Bahrain and Kuwait have abolished ‘sponsorship’ (not certain of all the details) but it sounds like a straightforward visa issued by the government that’s valid for work.
    What is the sense having ‘new recruits’ being shipped into Oman while there are so many unemployed Omani, expat, illegal’s etc in Oman – but more or less squeezed out by the considerable benefits of ‘sponsorship’ that the vested interest (employer and recruiter) gets.
    Money to be made by the recruiters in each country and ‘labour agencies’ here and some employers.


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