Recruiters and businesses welcome suspension of good conduct certificates for expat workers

Streamlined version of UAE scheme is expected to be reintroduced in future, following administrative delays and confusion over eligibility

Recruiters and employers have welcomed the decision to suspend the requirement for expats to provide a Certificate of Good Conduct before they can commence work in the UAE – but it is expected the Ministry of Labour will reintroduce the scheme in an amended form in the future.

The government introduced rules in February requiring expat workers to prove they had no criminal convictions and had not been investigated by the police at any point in the past five years. This applied to expats changing jobs within the UAE as well as those looking to move to the country for work, with fees reaching as much as AED300 (around US$82).

However, the government has now confirmed the requirement has been suspended, to be reintroduced in a revised form at a future date once processes have been “standardised”. It is believed that concerns from foreign governments, as well as administrative problems, were behind the decision. There was also confusion about which types of worker was required to provide certification.

Murtaza Khan, a partner at immigration advisory Fragomen Worldwide, told Khaleej Times that the scheme had caused significant delays to the recruitment process: “Acquiring a good conduct certificate can be a long process. In turn, that can impact business timelines when it comes to hiring workers. In the UAE, we are heavily reliant on foreign workers – about 80 per cent in the private sector. The need for this certificate increases the duration of the recruitment process and that can impact business projects."

However, Khan said he continued to support the thinking behind the certificate: "When the mandatory rule was brought in, its purpose was clear: to strengthen and secure the UAE. Background checks on people are a form of protection for the UAE's growth programme. It makes sense and it's not an unusual practice worldwide. Many countries require these certificates."

Navdeep Singh Suri, Indian Ambassador to the UAE, was among those welcoming the temporary suspension of the certificate, saying it would remove “uncertainties”. The Philippines government also said it approved of the move, while human rights organisations in India said the process of applying for certificates had proved hugely expensive for jobseekers in the country and had led to huge queues at administrative centres.

“The feedback we received from clients of the Ministry was that the process of getting the certificate is delaying applications,” said Dr Omar Al Nuaimi, assistant under-secretary at the Ministry of Labour, in The National. “They were facing difficulties and we wanted to make sure we don’t delay visa applications, so we decided to suspend and restudy how we apply the certificate. It is a temporary suspension.”

The move comes at a busy time for employment administrators in the UAE, with the country’s courts currently stepping up the rate of prosecutions against employers. In Abu Dhabi, the Judicial Department confirmed it handled 22 instances of non-payment of wages in 2017, fining employers a total of AED5m (US$1.4m).

However, one innovation that will not be introduced any time soon is a minimum wage. Following speculation that such a move was on the horizon, the Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratisation issued a statement reiterating its opposition to minimum wage policies: “The government remains of the view that a free labour market, based on supply and demand, creates the optimal conditions under which we are able to continue to welcome thousands of guest workers to the UAE every year, while simultaneously fostering sustainable economic growth."

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