There was some confusion as sections of the local media reported in March that Executive Regulations may soon be out to help implement the new immigration law, also referred to by some as New or Reformed Sponsorship Law.
The actual name of the legislation is the Law, No 21 of 2015, Regulating the Entry, Departure and Residency of Expatriates. It actually removes the sponsorship system and makes the employment of expatriates entirely contract-based.
Primary and secondary Law
Some wondered as to why “a new law” was again being issued when one (No 21 of 2015) was already out late in October last year. Actually, that was not so. The media were talking about Executive Regulations that would enable the main law (No 21 of 2015) to be put into force.
Executive Regulations are necessary to help implement any law, as they specify how the provisions of the law are to be practically enforced, and what should be the powers and responsibilities of the state agency or agencies tasked with implementing the law.
A law is also called Primary Law while Executive Regulations are sometimes referred to as Secondary Law. As the terms suggest, a Primary Law is the main legislation which is passed by a legislative authority, whereas a Secondary Law refers to a set of rules about how an executive branch (a state agency, for instance) would be required to implement it.
The Law, No 21 of 2015, was issued on 27 October, 2015 by the highest legislative and executive authority of the country, the Emir, H.H. Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani,
while the Executive Regulations, specifying procedural rules, are to be issued by the Minister of Interior, who is the Prime Minister, H.E. Sheikh Abdullah bin Nasser bin Khalifa Al Thani.
The law was issued after marathon debates were held over its draft at various fora, in the main, at the Advisory Council and the Qatar Chamber of Commerce and Industry (QCCI). The Advisory Council represents society at large, whereas the Chamber is the representative body of the private sector or the business community. Both are said to have taken keen interest in the draft which was also reportedly referred to the Qatari Lawyers’ Association.
The draft of the reformed sponsorship law, which it was referred to by some in the local media at the time, was debated threadbare at the two and the other fora and the changes that were proposed were communicated to the State Cabinet by the Advisory Council. It is the Cabinet which first reviews a draft law and then refers it to the Advisory Council. The Council then sends it back to the Cabinet with its reviews and suggestions and most of the time the Cabinet pays heed to the Council’s recommendations. It then refers a draft law for final issuance. The Council has various specialist in-house committees to discuss important issues like the draft laws, and make effective recommendations. These panels also have the right to rope in experts for help.
NOC and exit permit revised
Law No 21 eventually saw the light of day late last October, as noted earlier. It was published in the official gazette (Issue No 29) on 13 December, 2015. It is to be implemented exactly a year after being published in the gazette, so the clock has been ticking as the enforcement deadline is set for mid-December this year.
The law removes the sponsorship system and makes employment of expatriate workers entirely contract-based. All disputes between an employer and his worker will be resolved in strict accordance with the terms and conditions laid out in the contract. While the old law called a Qatari employer ‘Kafeel’, or sponsor, it is interesting to note that the new legislation refers to him as “the person who licenses you to come into the country”, local Arabic daily Al Sharq said at the time the legislation was issued.
Employment contracts will be of two types under the terms of the new law – Fixed Contracts and Open-ended Contracts. After the new law comes into force in December, existing employment contracts of all expatriate workers will need to be re-worded and signed afresh to comply with its provisions. And the contractual period of fixed or open-ended contracts would, naturally, begin after they are signed afresh.
Some people erratically think that the new rules will apply to their existing job contracts immediately after the new law comes into force. “This is not true,” a legal source told BQ. He said contract durations to which new regulations would be applicable would begin then. People with fixed contracts would be able to leave a job and look for another once the contractual obligation and period end. And people with open-ended agreements would need approval from labour and interior ministries to change job and that approval they can seek only after they have worked for five years.
People who leave a job and go back home would be able to return two to three days after their departure from Qatar provided there is no court order against them and there is approval from the interior and labour ministries. Needless to say that the contracts of new recruits will also have new format in compliance with the law.
The rule currently is that if the employer of an expatriate worker doesn’t formally permit him and doesn’t issue an NOC, he can return to Qatar to take up another job only after two years. The current exit permit system will also be removed and expatriates will need to verbally inform their employers of their holiday or travel plans as also inform the interior ministry three working days in advance. If the employer has objection, the expatriate could petition a committee at the interior ministry.
In emergency situations, a grievance committee at the interior ministry could be contacted and it will approve an expatriate’s request to leave the country in three working days. According to legal and business circles, however, it would only be clear how the new system works and whether it is expatriate-friendly, after the law is implemented in December.