UN body welcomes 'milestone' in Qatar labor reforms

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — The U.N. labor organization said Thursday that Qatar has abolished exit visa requirements for virtually all migrant workers, hailing the move as a “milestone” in reform efforts ahead of the 2022 FIFA World Cup.

The International Labor Organization said new legislation allows nearly all migrant workers in Qatar to leave the country without first obtaining permission from their employers. The exit visas were part of the “kafala” system, which critics say restricts workers' rights and leads to abuses.

Qatar changed its labor laws in October 2018 to remove the need for most private sector workers to obtain exit permits. The latest legislation expands those rights to domestic workers and those working in the public sector, the oil and gas industry, those employed at sea and those working in agriculture.

The labor organization said the requirement remains in place for members of the armed forces and those in key positions at companies.

“The ILO warmly welcomes these changes, which will benefit many migrant workers in Qatar," said Houtan Homayounpour, the the head of the ILO office working with Qatar. "The removal of exit permits is an important milestone in the government’s labour reform agenda.”

Rights groups have long accused Qatar and other oil-rich Gulf nations, which rely heavily on migrant workers, of labor abuses. Qatar's hosting of soccer's world tournament in 2022 has shined a light on its practices and appears to have encouraged reforms.