Legally, we don’t own our passports - they are not our property, but are actually the property of the countries that issued them. Passports are extremely important because they are official documents issued by governments to certify our identity and entitle us to the right to travel.
Unfortunately, some employers in Kuwait and the region continue to hold their employees’ passports. Why do companies still do this? There are regulations that impose fines on companies that do not adhere to the law and hold employees’ passports, yet the issue continues to grow in Kuwait. I have written extensively about the matter, but I continue to get emails on a daily basis about the issue, so I decided to write about the importance of keeping your passport with you as an employee and what games companies play in order to keep the passports.
Question: My employer has my passport - what can I do? I heard I need to file a complaint at the Shuoon (Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor). Is this true? Where do I go?
Fajer: Yes, you need to file a complaint at the Shuoon. It has one office in every governorate in Kuwait. Every employee has a file in a certain governorate, so you need to find out which Shuoon office your file is under. Your best option would be to go to the Shuoon in your workplace’s area or where your company’s head office is located. So for example, let’s say you work in an oil company, so you should probably go to Ahmadi’s Shuoon.
Once you get there, you need to file a complaint stating that your passport has been taken and not returned. The Shuoon does take this issue seriously and although the procedure may be complicated and may take a long time, at least the people that work at the Shuoon have been very compassionate and caring towards employees. If you are finding it difficult to file a complaint, I suggest you hire a lawyer. They are very efficient at doing the job, because unfortunately from experience, I can tell you that some companies play games stating that they do not have the passport or accuse the employee of lying.
If you file a complaint, expect that this may cause the HR department or your employer to be aggressive towards you. I am saying this from experience. I have seen employees go through a rough time and be treated badly because they asked for their right to keep their passports. It’s really sad to see that employers still treat their staff this way, even though the Kuwaiti government has rewritten many resolutions in order to give the employees more rights.
Question: Is it true that if my passport is with my employer, they can cancel my residency?
Fajer: Yes, they can cancel your residency at the Shuoon if they have your passport. They can also extend your residency if they wish to do so. This has also caused many problems for my clients - some of them were looking forward to leaving the company, yet their employers renewed their residency for another year.
I know it is very difficult for you to refuse to give your employer your passport and it is a very tough situation to be in, but I highly advise that should you have to give your passport to your employer, get a signed document stating that they have your passport. Also, do the same when they give it back. If they ask for your passport because they want to renew your residency, for example, get them to give you that in writing as well. I hope the above has helped, and my apologies for repeating certain topics, but there are many concerns regarding these topics. If you have any topic suggestions, please do forward them to me.
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