I always wonder what it would be to not have a passport, to be unable to leave a country, to be stuck between its buildings, to be unable to visit family. This topic is of growing concern internationally from visa issues, to employers illegally keeping passports, to over protective fathers. Traveling is a blessing but it is also a right, and unlike a freedom, a right is granted to us by authorities, where else we are born with freedoms.
I believe that all adults should have the right to travel to wherever they wish, if they can afford to and I hope to see that become true in the future. Unfortunately, just like any other countries, there are some constraints by law in Kuwait, even though Kuwaiti law is extremely fair and gives expats the right to travel, while other GCC countries require expats to have permission to travel from their employers. Kuwaiti law also allows women to travel without male permission and guardianship, unlike other GCC countries.
Today I am answering questions regarding the right to travel, and I hope that you find this week’s column useful.
Keeping the passport
Question: Does my employer have the right to keep my passport? And if they are, what can I do about it?
Fajer: No. Your employer does not have the right to keep your passport. This is illegal, but unfortunately seems to be a more common than expected practice in Kuwait. I have seen international companies keep passports of thousands of employees. There are monetary punishments for companies that do keep passports, yet these companies unfortunately know that it is too expensive for employees to take the companies to court.
You need to go and file a complaint in the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor. This can be a lengthy and difficult process and everything is in Arabic, so you will need a translator or lawyer. You will need to obtain different documents before you can file a complaint. Please keep in mind that it will take some time and that your employer might even be more unfair towards you knowing that you have filed a complaint. Unfortunately the best way to deal with this is through a lawyer.
Question: I am working as a contractor in my company and I have my passport, but someone told me that I need to cancel my visa before I travel. The company is not giving me my rights such as my salary, so I want to leave. Can you please advise me what is the best solution?
Fajer: I think it is best that you cancel your visa officially and file these complaints so you are not later on accused of absconding. Even if you are not able to cancel your visa, at least file a complaint for your rights such as your salary at the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor.
Question: I am a 40-year-old Kuwaiti mother of four and I want to travel without my husband or his permission. Do I still need his permission? What about my children; do I need his permission for their travels?
Fajer: No you do not need his permission for your own travels, but you will need his permission for your children’s travel even if he is no longer your husband and you have custody of your children.
By Attorney Fajer Ahmed
Email Fajer at [email protected] for help with your legal questions.