Qatari reform of controversial visa system kicks in

Under new law all but five percent of company’s workforce can leave without prior permission from employers.

DOHA - Long-awaited reform of Qatar's controversial exit visa system, which requires foreign workers to obtain their bosses' permission to leave the country, came into force on Sunday, the government said.

"Law No. 13 of 2018... regulating the entry, exit and residency of expatriates is being implemented starting today," the interior ministry announced on Twitter.

Qatar announced in September it had approved legislation to scrap the visa system -- a lynchpin of the country's "kafala", or sponsorship, system which many liken to modern-day slavery.

Under the new law, all but five percent of a company's workforce -- reportedly those in the most senior positions -- can leave without prior permission from employers.

Those not allowed to leave Qatar "for any reason" can file a complaint to the Expatriate Exit Grievance Committee that will "take a decision within three working days", the ministry said.

Scrapping the exit permit is the biggest announcement made so far since Qatar agreed last November to enter into a three-year agreement with the UN's International Labour Organization to oversee reform.

The football World Cup 2022 host has come under intense pressure to reform its labour laws, which have been repeatedly denounced by human rights groups.

Critics have long argued for abolition of the exit visa system.

Research published last year by rights group found around a quarter of all exit visa requests were denied by the government.

There are some two million foreign workers in Qatar.