OMAN (Tier 2)

The Government of Oman does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking but is making significant efforts to do so.  The government demonstrated overall increasing efforts compared with the previous reporting period, considering the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, if any, on its anti-trafficking capacity; therefore Oman remained on Tier 2.  These efforts included initiating prosecutions of alleged labor traffickers, including an Omani national, convicting sex traffickers and upgrading its specialized anti-trafficking police unit to increase capacity to investigate trafficking cases.  Officials also identified more trafficking victims overall, including labor trafficking victims.  Following reports of African and Asian domestic workers being subjected to indicators of forced labor by their employers in Oman, the government also suspended the issuance of visas for citizens of such countries and no longer allowed nationals from such countries to arrive on tourist visas and convert them to work visas to prevent exploitation of such workers in Oman.  However, the government did not meet the minimum standards in several key areas.  The government investigated and prosecuted fewer alleged traffickers overall compared with previous years and did not convict any traffickers for the forced labor of migrant workers – the largest trafficking problem in Oman – for the fifth consecutive year.  Although it investigated some forced labor cases, these efforts were inadequate considering the reported scale of domestic servitude cases involving more than 1,000 nationals from at least 19 countries in Oman during the year that the government did not investigate or criminally prosecute.  Instead, officials continued to routinely use arbitration and administrative penalties to resolve grievances filed by migrant domestic workers.  Additionally, in some cases exploited workers were forced to pay “release fees” to their sponsors or employers in order to leave the country prior to their contract expiration, which likely perpetuated unidentified victims’ trafficking situations if they could not pay to secure their release.  In some cases, the government also likely further penalized unidentified domestic servitude victims through arrest and detention, including for “absconding” charges filed by their employer.  Domestic worker legal protections remained weak, and hotlines and grievance mechanisms were reportedly inaccessible for some workers.  Finally, the government did not consistently hold recruitment agencies accountable for domestic worker mistreatment or labor law violations.

  • Significantly increase efforts to investigate, prosecute, and convict traffickers, including Omani nationals and recruitment agencies, of forced labor crimes, specifically of migrant workers, including domestic servitude.
  • Given concerns of domestic workers being exploited in conditions indicative of forced labor by Omani employers, thoroughly investigate reports of abuse and consider such cases as potential trafficking cases if indicators are present, and refer potential labor trafficking victims to care, instead of returning the worker to their alleged trafficker.
  • Implement Ministerial Decision 189/2004 to allow domestic workers – in cases of abuse – to terminate a contract without notice and without paying “release fees” as penalty for early contract termination and penalize employers, sponsors, and recruitment offices who demand such fees from workers.
  • Operationalize the newly developed NRM and train officials on procedures to proactively identify and refer to care both male and female trafficking victims among vulnerable populations, such as migrant workers, including domestic workers, persons in commercial sex, and those who flee abusive employers and situations of forced labor, and prevent the penalization of unidentified victims by utilizing formal screening protocols.
  • Expand labor law protections to, and enforce legal protections for, domestic workers.
  • Continue to expand trainings for officials involved in criminal investigations and for hotline operators to ensure accurate characterization of trafficking crimes and ensure hotlines and other grievance mechanisms are accessible for workers to submit complaints.
  • Hold non-compliant recruitment offices criminally accountable for domestic worker mistreatment or violations of the labor law by increasing inspections and enforcing adequate penalties.
  • Investigate officials allegedly complicit in trafficking crimes and pursue criminal prosecutions if trafficking indicators are present.
  • Impose dissuasive penalties on employers and recruitment agents who withhold foreign workers’ passports.
  • Increase use of specialized trafficking units within the Ministry of Labor (MOL), the Royal Oman Police (ROP), and Public Prosecutor’s Office (PPO) to investigate indicators of potential trafficking crimes, specifically those that originate as labor violations.
  • Ensure effective implementation of recent reforms to the sponsorship-based employment system by increasing awareness of reforms among migrant worker population and employers.
  • Disseminate to stakeholders the decision that allows potential victims to self-refer to protective services and amend the provision that stipulates they can only reside in the shelter long-term if they file charges against, or there is a corresponding prosecution of, an alleged trafficker.
  • Fully implement the NAP for 2021-2023.
  • Continue to conduct country-wide public awareness campaigns on all forms of trafficking, specifically targeted to vulnerable populations, including domestic workers and their employers.

The government demonstrated uneven law enforcement efforts.  Oman’s 2008 anti-trafficking law criminalized sex trafficking and labor trafficking and prescribed punishments of three to seven years’ imprisonment and a fine between 5,000 and 100,000 Omani rial (OMR) ($12,990-$259,740) for offenses involving adult victims and seven to 15 years’ imprisonment and a fine of 10,000 OMR ($25,970) for offenses involving child victims.  These punishments were sufficiently stringent and, with regard to sex trafficking, commensurate with penalties prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape.  In 2021, the government reported drafting new anti-trafficking legislation in consultation with an international organization focused on increasing penalties for traffickers and greater protections for victims; the legislation was not finalized or enacted by the close of the reporting period.

The ROP and PPO continued to maintain specialized anti-trafficking units in their respective organizations and the government maintained a court presided by specialized anti-trafficking judges dedicated to trafficking cases at certain times, but it also could be used to handle other types of cases – including labor exploitation.  In February 2023, ROP upgraded its specialized anti-trafficking section to a unit, which comprised four teams:  investigations, prosecutions, interagency coordination, and international cooperation.  The new unit added 30 additional staff and increased the ROP’s capacity to investigate and follow through on alleged trafficking cases.  In 2022, the government investigated 10 alleged human trafficking cases involving 21 alleged traffickers; this included 18 individuals for sex trafficking and three individuals for labor trafficking, of which one involved forced begging.  This was a decrease compared with 2021 when the government investigated 55 cases (47 alleged sex trafficking cases and eight alleged cases of forced begging).  Authorities prosecuted 11 individuals under the anti-trafficking law, including nine alleged sex traffickers and two alleged traffickers for the forced labor of migrant workers, including one case involving a domestic worker.  This was a decrease compared with the government’s prosecution of 36 alleged traffickers in 2021 (28 suspects for sex trafficking and eight suspects for forced begging).  In 2022, courts convicted five sex traffickers under the anti-trafficking law; this was compared with courts convicting seven traffickers in 2021 (six sex traffickers and one trafficker for forced begging).  Forced begging was prosecuted and convicted under a penal code that had lesser penalties than the anti-trafficking law.  Judges sentenced all five sex traffickers to imprisonment between one and seven years and fines between 5,000 OMR ($12,990) and 10,000 OMR ($25,970).  All of the convicted traffickers were foreign nationals, and the government planned to deport and impose reentry bans on them upon completion of their sentences.  For the fifth consecutive year, the government did not convict any perpetrators for forced labor of migrant workers or domestic servitude including Omani nationals.  Courts acquitted the other six prosecuted traffickers – including the two alleged labor traffickers.  In one of the acquittals, an Omani employer accused of forced labor of her employed domestic worker allegedly withheld the worker’s salary, did not issue a valid residence permit to the worker, restricted the worker’s travel outside of the home, and threatened the worker with punishment if she reported her situation to authorities.  Courts acquitted the employer after the worker reported she agreed to allow the employer not to provide her salary until the end of her contract but did not report addressing the other trafficking indicators.

Despite concerns of official complicity in trafficking crimes during the year, the government did not report any criminal investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government officials complicit in human trafficking crimes.  In July 2022, a Filipino woman alleged an Omani diplomat assigned to the Omani embassy in Berlin exploited her in domestic servitude for more than three years; while the victim received assistance from a local NGO in Germany, she eventually returned home and received no restitution from the employer.  The Omani government reported it investigated the matter, and determined the domestic worker was paid her salary, and did not take further action.

Foreign government officials and civil society also asserted inaction and tolerance of trafficking allegations by the Omani government.  In November 2022, Sri Lankan authorities arrested a Sri Lankan diplomat posted at the Sri Lankan embassy in Muscat for involvement in a larger trafficking ring that recruited Sri Lankan women for domestic work in Oman and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).  Once in Oman, women were reportedly exploited in domestic servitude and sex trafficking.  The government deported the allegedly complicit Sri Lankan official and while the Omani government reported meeting with the Sri Lankan government, the Omani government did not report investigating the domestic servitude and sex trafficking cases.

During the year, media, NGOs, international organizations, and labor-source governments continued to report workers – mostly from Africa and Asia – were deceived by labor recruiters – either by paying illegal recruitment and visa fees and working in a job different than agreed upon or working as a domestic worker and experiencing conditions different from those agreed upon.  Once in Oman, workers experienced non-payment of wages; restriction of movement; physical, verbal, and sexual abuse; contract switching; excessive work hours; denial of medical care, food, and rest days; passport confiscation; and threats of use of force, arrest and detention by police – all trafficking indicators – at the hands of their employers.  Despite these trafficking indicators, the government did not report criminally investigating the majority of these cases.  Moreover, observers noted Omani police did not speak to the alleged victims; civil society and labor-source governments reported when Omani police investigated allegations of abuse, police solely spoke to the employer.  Because the government considered such cases as administrative, immigration, or labor law violations, NGOs and labor-source governments reported workers were required to pay their employers or sponsors “release fees” to terminate their contract prior to its expiration and leave Oman; labor-source governments and workers’ families paid Omani employers up to $2,500 per worker for the worker to return home.  Officials in some cases suggested payment of such fees was the quickest resolution to the alleged abuse and exploitation.  As many workers already paid illegal recruitment fees to agents and experienced wage theft from their employers, observers noted requiring such payments to terminate a contract to leave Oman furthered situations of debt bondage.

During the year, the government participated in INTERPOL’s Weka II Operation, in which it identified six trafficking victims, all African nationals, who experienced deceptive online recruitment for employment in Oman; the government did not provide additional details on such cases.  In 2022, the National Committee to Combat Human Trafficking (NCCHT) – directly and in partnership with Gulf states and international organizations – conducted and participated in 23 anti-trafficking trainings for officials of ROP, PPO, Ministry of Social Development (MOSD), Ministry of Labor (MOL), Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA), Ministry of Health (MOH) and the Omani Human Rights Commission (OHRC); in addition, hotline staff, hotel staff from 10 hotels, and airport security personnel participated in trainings on preventing, identifying, reporting, investigating, and prosecuting trafficking cases.  The MFA continued to fund an international trafficking expert to advise and assist interagency entities in conducting training on victim-centered investigations and enhancing information-gathering techniques, as well as devising legislative improvements.

The government demonstrated uneven efforts to protect victims.  The government identified 34 victims (17 female sex trafficking victims, including two girls; and 17 victims of forced labor, including 16 males and one female).  This was an increase compared with the government’s identification of 16 victims in 2021 (14 victims of sex trafficking including one girl, and two boys who were victims of forced begging).  All 34 victims identified in 2022 were foreign nationals from Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Namibia, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Uganda, and Yemen.  The government referred all 34 victims to care at the MOSD shelter.

The government utilized a formal screening questionnaire for officials to identify potential trafficking victims among those arrested for commercial sex, labor violations, and fleeing their employer who was also their visa sponsor.  In 2022 ROP developed an action plan that included specialized procedures and guidelines for proactively identifying victims for first responders and ROP officers.  The government remained without formal referral procedures and instead, identified victims continued to be referred on an hoc basis through ROP, hospital staff, or MOL officials to the MOSD shelter.  Officials also continued to refer some victims identified as part of ongoing police investigations to MOSD for shelter placement and medical and psychological services.  Some observers noted officials continued to largely rely on victims to self-identify by reporting abuses to authorities.  Officials often referred self-identified victims to police rather than directly to the MOSD for shelter placement, although the government continued to allow potential victims to self-refer to the shelter following a policy change in 2020 that no longer required victims to file a case with the PPO for an official referral to shelter.  One NGO reported challenges in assisting potential trafficking victims to self-refer to the shelter due to lack of available information on shelter procedures online or via phone with MOSD.  During the reporting period, the government developed an NRM but did not finalize or launch it by the close of the reporting period.

The government did not provide the total amount allocated for shelter operations during the year; however, it did report using 33,220 OMR ($86,290) for basic victim support – including food, laundry, and victims’ spending money during their stay at the shelter, and financial support for victims upon repatriation; in the previous reporting period, it allocated 1.79 million OMR ($4.65 million) for accommodation and victim care at its permanent shelter.  The government’s shelter provided room and board, psychological counseling, legal support, monetary stipends, recreational opportunities, recovery activities, resiliency training, and medical care to victims and could lodge up to 50 female, male, and child victims of trafficking or other types of abuse.  The MOSD shelter continued to cooperate with a quasi-governmental local charity through an MOU to assist vulnerable individuals residing at the government shelter, including trafficking victims; among other services, assistance included providing airline tickets home for victims when court proceedings ended and facilitating training workshops for victims to learn new skills.  In 2022, through this agreement, four victims received airline tickets to return home after completion of court proceedings.  Shelter administrators interfaced with judicial officials to keep victims informed of the status of their legal cases.  Shelter policy dictated victims could depart the premises only with a chaperone.  Victims were able to work during their stay at the shelter, with the employer acting as a chaperone during working hours after vetting, training, and signing an agreement of expectations.  The government offered complimentary repatriation services to victims who did not want to remain in-country or could facilitate new sponsorship if they chose to stay in Oman to work after departing the shelter; in 2022, the government repatriated 32 of the 34 identified victims.  Some source-country embassies in Oman offered victim services for their nationals but could not operate formal shelters without approval from the government, which it did not provide.  However, the government reported some potential trafficking victims or vulnerable foreign workers chose to go to their embassies for shelter during the year.  For example, the Sri Lankan embassy provided temporary shelter for at least 90 vulnerable women who left abusive employers or situations of sex trafficking in 2022.  At the close of the reporting period, the Sri Lankan embassy reported 77 female domestic workers – including many potential labor trafficking victims – remained in the shelter and could not be repatriated because they had incurred overstay fines, were unable pay “release fees” to sponsors or employers in order to terminate contracts or were unable to pay for a return flight home or a COVID-19 vaccination necessary for departure.  Other women were not able to leave Oman because they had criminal charges filed against them by their employers, including theft and “absconding.”

The government provided foreign victims with legal alternatives to removal to countries in which they may face retribution or hardship, to include alternate employment under another sponsor; during the reporting period, the government assisted two victims in obtaining new jobs.  Officials permitted and encouraged some victims to stay in Oman for the duration of court proceedings, but the government reported ROP officers could also take victims’ statements to pursue criminal charges in their absence if the victim desired repatriation immediately.  The government reported all 34 victims cooperated in criminal cases during the reporting period.  Officials at times reportedly encouraged other victims to reach extrajudicial settlements for the sake of expediency.  The government allowed victims participating in trials the opportunity to work or leave the shelter with a chaperone.  The government continued to stipulate a victim had to have an active trafficking investigation in order to remain at the shelter long-term; this policy may have limited care for victims who chose not to participate in law enforcement proceedings.  Sources reported some cases ended with aggrieved workers unable to switch employers, reaching administrative settlements with their former employers, and subsequently returning to their home countries.  The NCCHT upheld the tenets of its MOU with a local association to provide pro bono legal assistance to trafficking victims involved in court proceedings, to include seeking damages on behalf of victims and pursuing labor claims via MOL mediation.  Officials permitted victims to obtain restitution directly from the government and/or by filing civil suits against traffickers; in 2022, courts awarded one victim compensation.

Although the government had formal victim identification and screening procedures, some officials did not systemically or universally employ such procedures among vulnerable groups, specifically domestic workers reporting abuse or those that had left their employer’s home after experiencing poor work conditions, including indicators of labor trafficking.  One NGO reported in cases where domestic workers had experienced abuse or conditions indicative of forced labor and approached police, the workers’ claims were generally not investigated and they were instead returned to their abusive employer or arrested because their employer had filed “absconding charges.”  This likely rendered some potential victims of labor trafficking without care and at risk of re-trafficking in their employer’s home.  For example, an NGO notified ROP of a case of a domestic worker being physically abused, experiencing wage theft, and in need of medical attention; when the police went to the employer’s home, they warned the employer to stop abusing the worker and ensure her salary was paid in full but left without speaking to the domestic worker.  Following the ROP’s departure, the employer punished the domestic worker by locking her in a room without food or water for several days and shortly thereafter the NGO lost contact with the worker.  The government reported contacting the NGO for information but did not report further investigating the broader allegations regarding employers or recruitment agencies.  In other cases, police reportedly facilitated requests to pay sponsors or employers “release money” from exploited domestic workers who sought to terminate their contracts early.  In March 2023, the government reported it deported 641 migrant workers for violating Omani labor law; it detained and deported 414 workers for “absconding” and 108 for working for employers who were not their sponsor; the government did not report the reasons for deportation for the other 119 workers or screening these individuals prior to deportation.  Because the government did not generally identify domestic workers who experienced indicators of forced labor as potential trafficking victims, it likely penalized unidentified victims through arrest and detention.

The government maintained efforts to prevent trafficking.  The NCCHT was composed of members from the MFA, PPO, ROP, Ministry of Justice and Legal Affairs, MOH, Ministry of Education, MOSD, MOL, Ministry of Information, the Council of Administrative Affairs for the Judiciary, Oman Human Rights Commission, Oman Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and the General Federation of Oman Workers.  The NCCHT continued to implement its 2021-2023 NAP, including by drafting a new labor law in 2021 with increased protections for domestic workers and a new anti-trafficking law; however, both remained pending finalization and enactment at the close of the reporting period.  The NCCHT met once as a full committee during the reporting year and relevant members met five times.  The MFA, NCCHT, and an international organization hosted an annual symposium on human trafficking in January 2023 to discuss best practices and cooperation with other international organizations.

Article 20 of Omani law No. 35 of 2003 prohibited “employers or the person licensed to provide foreign workers from charging the worker any sums in consideration of employment;” if an employer or recruitment agency was found to violate this article, the law stipulated imprisonment of at least a month and a fine between 500 and 1,000 OMR ($1,300 and $2,600).  However, many workers – particularly domestic workers – continued to pay recruitment fees to agents in their home countries who also operated agencies in Oman, were informal sub-agents of agencies in Oman, or connected the worker with the Omani recruitment agency; one NGO reported that of 469 Sierra Leonean domestic workers interviewed in Oman, 93 percent reported paying recruitment fees to agents or middlemen before arriving in Oman.  Observers noted although the government – through MOL officials and inspectors – was responsible for issuing licenses and regulation of recruitment agencies through inspections and monitoring agencies for employment and immigration violations, it did not adequately address illegal worker-paid recruitment fees or consistently hold non-compliant recruitment agencies accountable for mistreatment of domestic workers or violations of the labor law.  For example, an NGO reported a woman – after paying fees to a recruiter in her home country to work as a hairdresser – was subjected to excessively long hours, denial of medical care, lack of food, and wage theft as a domestic worker in Oman.  The worker went to her recruitment office in Oman, where she reported she was deceived by the recruiter in her home country and desired to go home; the recruitment office representative physically beat her, locked her in a room, and denied her food and drinking water for a week after which she agreed under duress to work for another family as a domestic worker.  During the reporting period, MOL inspected 592 recruitment offices and agencies to identify potential violations; however, it did not report whether it referred any findings to the labor courts for administrative proceedings or referred any potential trafficking cases to police or victims to care.  Separately, MOL continued to employ its dedicated counter-trafficking unit within its Inspection Department which conducted an unknown number of workplace and recruitment agency inspections during the reporting period but did not report if any potential trafficking cases were identified from inspections.  Separately, MOL received 1,458 complaints against recruitment agencies during the year; out of the 1,458 complaints, 315 were amicably settled, 646 were referred to judicial authorities, 491 remained under investigation, and the remainder were closed at the close of the reporting period; the government did not report identifying any potential trafficking cases from these complaints.  MOL circular No. 2/2006 prohibited employers from withholding migrant workers’ passports but did not specify penalties for noncompliance.  The government did not report data on passport retention complaints in 2022.  Nonetheless, passport confiscation remained rampant.  In the same survey of 469 Sierra Leonean domestic workers referenced above, 84 percent did not have their passports at the time of contact, with 85 percent reporting employers took their passport.  Many workers reported as soon as they were picked up at the airport, either the employer or recruitment agency representative confiscated their passport.

The ROP maintained the government’s central trafficking hotline and displayed its phone number on social media posts, in news articles pertaining to trafficking, and on the NCCHT website.  The NCCHT also was able to receive complaints through its website, which was translated into 14 languages.  Separately, MOL operated a labor violation hotline, which it promoted in its video on workers’ rights and responsibilities, and the MOSD operated an all-purpose helpline that also assisted potential victims access the government shelter.  All hotlines reportedly remained active year-round, 24 hours per day, and staffed with Arabic and English interpreters; Urdu, Hindi, and Bengali-speaking contractors were available.  The government reported receiving 266 trafficking-related calls across all hotlines during the year; however, it did not report the outcome of the calls.  Labor-source governments and an NGO reported concerns with available hotlines and grievance mechanisms for workers, including unresponsiveness to calls, language barriers, and unclear guidance on submitting complaints online.  Moreover, when submitting a complaint in person, NGOs and labor-source governments reported police often returned the worker to their employer without investigating and MOL officials were unsupportive to their complaint.  In one example, after reporting a case of domestic worker exploitation in need of immediate assistance to Omani officials, a foreign government official was advised to utilize the available hotlines to report the case.  The official called the hotline and waited more than an hour for an English-speaking hotline worker; once the case was reported, police called the distressed domestic worker, spoke to her in Arabic, instead of a language she understood, and asked her to leave – which she could not do as she was locked in a room in her employer’s home.

The labor law did not adequately protect domestic workers, and the 2004 Ministerial Decision regulating their employment did not provide effective rights protections or adequate complaint mechanisms.  This decision established broad regulations related to monthly wages; adequate room, board, and medical care; return airfare when the employer terminates the contract; and airfare to and from the worker’s home country during approved vacation days; however, the decision did not provide standards on working hours, weekly rest days, annual vacation, overtime compensation, or penalties for employers who breach provisions.  The government’s 2011 standard employment contract for domestic workers included provisions from the 2004 decision, and required one weekly rest day, 30 days of leave, and return flights every two years, but had no limit on working hours or provisions for overtime pay.  Many domestic workers experienced non-payment of wages, excessive work hours, passport confiscation, and physical and sexual abuse during the reporting period.  One NGO reported domestic workers worked between 16 and 20 hours daily, on average, without receiving compensation.  Although the 2004 decision provided broad regulations on medical care, employers were only required to have insurance in case of a worker’s death, but not health insurance for the worker.  The lack of a requirement for health insurance increased a worker’s vulnerability to exploitation as some employers would take the cost of medical care out of their wages.

In 2021, the government eliminated the “no objection certificate” (NOC) which allowed migrant workers, including domestic workers, to change employers upon completion or termination of their employment contract without employer approval.  However, workers who fled allegedly abusive employers were still required to obtain a NOC if their contract had not expired or been terminated.  Additionally, the MOL had to approve the contract with the new employer, at times delaying transfer.  Anecdotal reporting suggested migrant workers had little awareness of this 2021 reform, as many workers attempted to change employers prior to the completion or termination of their employment contract; in those instances, employers could prohibit employees from leaving until their contract ended.  The government did not report the number of workers who were approved to transfer jobs in 2022 without employer permission.  If a worker desired to terminate their contract prior to its expiration, the worker could do so after providing a 30-day notice to their employer, per labor law no. 35 of 2003.  Separately, domestic workers reportedly could also terminate a contract with a 30-day notice period.  Per the 2004 decision regulating domestic workers, in the case of abuse by the employer or a member of the employer’s family, domestic workers allegedly could terminate their contract without notice.  However, because the government did not consistently acknowledge cases of domestic worker exploitation or abuse, it did not implement this decision; rather, it allowed employers to request “release fees” from domestic workers to pay employers or sponsors as a penalty for terminating their contract prior to the two-year end date, regardless of working conditions.  Given that many domestic workers experienced indicators of trafficking by their employers, this practice likely perpetuated a potential victim’s trafficking situation if the worker could not pay such fees to remove themselves from exploitation.  The government also reported all workers could depart the country without permission at any time, but a worker’s ability to do so was contingent on physically possessing a passport, having sufficient travel funds to return home, and not facing any charges, including “absconding” charges.  Reports of domestic workers unable to leave Oman because they were subjected to “release fees” remained common; this practice allowed employers to continue to exert control over a worker’s movements, ultimately restricting a worker’s ability to depart the country freely.

The government continued to raise awareness via social media, hosted public dialogue sessions to discuss its efforts, including the decision to remove the NOC for job transfers, and periodically published reporting mechanisms to raise awareness on how to report potential cases for the public.  Officials also continued to participate in radio and television programs and commercials to raise awareness of the crime and the punishments for violating the law.  The government also continued to circulate awareness of workers’ rights through SMS messages and the distribution of booklets in public spaces.  The government reported having bilateral labor MOUs regarding migrant workers with Bangladesh, Egypt, India, Iran, Morocco, Pakistan, the Palestinian Authority, Sri Lanka, Syria, and Vietnam; some reportedly included articles prohibiting unlawful labor recruitment and trafficking.  Labor-source country embassy representatives that had labor-related agreements with the government reported they experienced good cooperation with MOL and ROP on labor issues involving their respective nationals during the reporting period.  In December 2022, the NCCHT held a meeting with representatives of major labor-source country embassies and the ROP and MOL to discuss human trafficking trends, protection available for victims in Oman and documenting trafficking cases and identifying victims.  Following reports of African and Asian domestic workers being subjected to indicators of forced labor by their employers in Oman, the government reported it was in the process of discussing additional bilateral MOUs with governments that did not have diplomatic representation in Oman.  It also suspended the issuance of visas for citizens of such countries and no longer allowed nationals from such countries to arrive on tourist visas and convert them to work visas.  The government did not make efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts.  The government provided anti-trafficking training to diplomatic personnel.

As reported over the past five years, human traffickers exploit foreign victims in Oman.  Oman’s migrant worker community comes primarily from South East and South Asia and more recently, from African countries, including Cameroon, Chad, Comoros, Ghana, Kenya, Lesotho, Liberia, Malawi, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Tanzania, Togo, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.  In 2022, media, NGOs, international organizations and labor-source governments continued to report increasing instances of migrant workers, specifically domestic workers, subjected to conditions indicative of labor trafficking by their Omani employers.  Labor recruiters deceive workers, mostly from Africa and Asia, either by paying illegal recruitment and visa fees and/or working in a job different than agreed upon and experience conditions different from agreed upon in Oman, including non-payment of wages; restriction of movement; physical, verbal, and sexual abuse; contract switching; excessive hours; denial of medical care, food, and rest days; passport confiscation; and threats of use of force, arrest, and detention by police – all trafficking indicators.  Migrant workers seeking low-wage jobs continue to be at risk for trafficking under the visa-sponsorship employment system in Oman, which grants recruitment agencies and/or Omani visa sponsors significant control over workers’ residency and work visas and therefore their legal status in the country.  Although the government instituted initial reforms of the sponsorship system during previous reporting periods, this system continues to give employers the power to dictate the status of residence permits.  Some unscrupulous recruitment agencies in Oman and their sub-agents in labor-source countries mislead migrant workers by providing fraudulent contracts with fictitious wages and charging exorbitant recruitment fees.  Some victims face working conditions significantly worse than recruiting agencies promised.  Reports of employers, sponsors, and recruitment offices seeking “release fees” from exploited workers and potential trafficking victims for them to freely leave Oman prior to the expiration of their contract remain common; such fees are generally to reimburse employers or recruitment offices for recruitment fees paid for the worker.  As many workers already pay high illegal recruitment fees to agents and experience wage theft from their employers, requiring such payments to terminate a contract early and freely leave Oman could equate to situations of debt bondage.  During the reporting period, labor-source governments and workers’ families paid Omani employers up to $2,500 per worker for the worker to return home; the government actively condones this practice and in one example, officials suggested to a foreign government payment of such fees was the quickest resolution to allow abused and exploited domestic workers to return home.  For example, the Zimbabwean government repatriated 110 of its citizens and the Namibian government repatriated 28 of its citizens after they were compelled to pay off each worker’s “release fee;” many vulnerable domestic workers who are experiencing indicators of forced labor remain in Oman because they and their government or family are unable to pay such fees to secure their release.

Foreign workers typically migrate to Oman willingly and legally.  Men generally seek employment in construction, agricultural, and service sectors, while women often seek domestic worker jobs.  Male migrant workers are typically from South Asia and are vulnerable to forced labor.  Traffickers exploit female victims, predominantly from South, Southeast, East Asia, and Africa, in forced labor and sex trafficking.  Domestic workers who flee their employers are also vulnerable to sex trafficking.  Some employers reportedly “kick out” their domestic employees who are consequently forced into commercial sex.  Some workers enter Oman with full knowledge of their work obligations but sponsors ultimately coerce them to work for little or no pay or in dire conditions under the credible threat of deportation.  Some workers arrived in Oman on tourist visas or by first traveling to the UAE while willing employers secured their Omani work visas, thereby circumventing oversight of some workers’ home governments.  Additionally, some victims originally intended to travel to the UAE but were subsequently compelled to accept work in Oman, or vice-versa.  Traffickers often began recruitment in labor-source countries with some promising retail jobs in well-known areas, such as Dubai.  After arriving in the UAE, traffickers transport migrant workers into Oman and force them to work for lower wages and in austere conditions in the absence of legal contracts or in commercial sex.  During the reporting period, media reported several Sri Lankan women were deceptively recruited for domestic work in the UAE and Oman; most recruited women ultimately reached UAE on tourist visas and were transferred to Oman.  Once in Oman, women were reportedly exploited by their employers in domestic work while others were immediately coerced into commercial sex.  Informal labor intermediaries operate legally but without regulation in Oman, communicating anonymously via social media platforms to promise Omani sponsors inexpensive domestic labor at a fraction of the cost stipulated by the formal, well-established recruitment agencies.

U.S. Department of State

The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future