The Pinoy OFW

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Employers Keeping Passport of their Employees is Illegal: Holding on to your Passport is your Human Right

OFWs (and other expats), please be advised that your passport is your personal identification and your responsibility. It is not right if your employer will take your passport and keep it for ‘safekeeping’.

There has always been a heated debate regarding the retention or safekeeping of passports and other vital documents between employers and employees. Employers would like to keep the passports of their employees for several reasons. Some of them are noble, but some of them are not really justifiable. As for the employees, it is very important to note that you have to exert your rights.

In UAE, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Singapore, there are laws that you can refer online that have been posted regarding this common scenario. So you really need to read about it and be firm. Don’t just say yes to your boss that they will keep your passport because this is the ‘norm’. You really need to exert your rights.

employer keeping passport illegal

Questions and Answers about Surrendering Your Passport and Your Rights

It has always been a tricky situation when employers try to enforce to keep your passports and you are not sure if you should give it to them. A general rule for most companies especially in the Middle East is that the giving your passport to your employer is a “mutual agreement”, which means that both of you should agree that your boss/company will keep your passport. But if you are still not sure what to do, here are some of the usual questions about your passports, answered. Please be guided accordingly.

What is a passport? How can I use it?

Passports are issued by your government and are government property. They are travel documents that also serve as your internationally recognized identity papers as well. If something happens to it (even if it’s your employer’s fault, you’re the one who will have to report it to the authorities and apply for a replacement).

Philippine passports are maroon-colored, machine-readable and biometrics capable. They get stamped with your visa when you enter countries with diplomatic ties. Your passport also gives you the right to demand immediate expatriation from the Philippine Embassy should there be any conflict in your region. Without it, you might not be given the authority to travel outside of the country because it will be deemed illegal.

Why do I need to keep my passport safe?

Your passport serves as your identity card in most places. It will identify you as a legal citizen of your home country. It will also help identify you as either a person on a work permit visa, a tourist on a holiday or as a student with a valid tenure in a school or learning institution.

You need to keep your passport safe because without it your rights might be limited. You can be considered without a country and you have surrendered some of your rights. Should your passport be stolen, damaged or lost, you need to report to your nearest embassy for assistance.

Why does my employer ask to keep my passport and other documents?

Some employers ask their employees to submit and turnover their passports and other important documents to them or the human resources department. They usually say that this is for safekeeping purposes. They say this is for their protection and yours as well.

Employers want the security of keeping your passports to keep you from leaving without their permission.

Is it legal for my employer to keep my passport?

No. Your employer insisting on keeping your passport is illegal. Your passport is your valid travel document and an additional identification of your citizenship. There are laws that govern the retention of passports recognized internationally.

My employer says he will keep my passport inside an accessible place, should I surrender my passport?

No is still the answer. Even if you will have access to your passport you should not surrender it to them.

Leaving your passport voluntarily in your company designated locker while you work is acceptable. This is considered valid for safekeeping purposes because you retain use and ownership of your passport after your shift is finished.

When is it considered legal for my employer to keep my passport?

While it is a gray area, you can surrender your passport to your employer only if there is a legally recognized document that you both signed. The document would state that you voluntarily submitted your passport for safekeeping and other formalities. The document should also state that you would be under the protection of your employer and that your passport would be returned to you at the end of the agreed upon date.

While this may be acceptable, we do not recommend that you do this. It can be seen as a surrender of your basic human right to freedom. It can be seen as being placed in indentured service or voluntary slavery.

What are the laws that state that we should not surrender our passports to our employers?

If your employer insists on keeping your passports, gently remind them that the law states,”…it is not allowed for any party to detain the passport except by the official parties with a judicial order and according to the law. Consequently it will be considered as an illegal action to detain the passport…”

My employer still insists on keeping my passport after reminding him that I know that it is illegal for him to do so. What shall I do?

You can seek legal action from your embassy and the Ministry of Interior. Coercing you to surrender your passport can lead to penalties from the authorities as it violates the prevailing law.

How can I assure my employer that I will not leave during the duration of my contract?

There are different ways that you can do this. We do recommend that you stick to the explanation that you understand that any violation on your end might result to a ban from the country aside from the corresponding penalties in local laws.

Final Verdict

It is illegal for your employer to demand the surrender of your passport not only because of the prevailing laws. It is more importantly because of the connection of your passport to your recognized human rights.

It does not matter if their purpose is to ensure your compliance of the details of your contract. It doesn’t matter if it is deemed safer with them. It does not matter if it is company policy. Keep your passports with you, within your reach at all times.

Under no circumstances should you surrender your passport to your employer. While they may insist, you should gently remind them that the prevailing law respects your human rights and retention of your passport is included in it. Your passport is part of your identity and you do not want to relinquish your identity to someone else.

Try to remind your employer that you are going to honor your contract or if you’re going to break it, you will process and resign properly. In this scenario, you have to show that you are sincere with your actions to gain your employer’s confidence.

Disclaimer: The information shared here should serve as a guide only. Always best to consult with proper authorities for assistance or consult help from a lawyer/certified professional.

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