UNITED ARAB EMIRATES (Tier 2)

The Government of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) 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 the United Arab Emirates remained on Tier 2.  These efforts included reporting the number of alleged trafficking cases investigated for the first time since 2012, including labor trafficking cases; and prosecuting and convicting more traffickers, including labor traffickers.  The government identified significantly more victims and referred them to care.  The government signed an agreement to provide free health care to trafficking victims residing at its shelter in Abu Dhabi.  It expanded mandatory enrollment in the Wage Protection System (WPS) to certain professions of domestic workers and enacted a new domestic worker law that included additional protections.  However, the government did not meet the minimum standards in several key areas.  Officials did not regularly consider labor law violations with trafficking indicators as potential trafficking crimes, rather addressing them administratively instead of through criminal proceedings, which undercut efforts to hold traffickers accountable and weakened deterrence.  The government did not consistently screen vulnerable populations for trafficking indicators, which may have led to penalization of some victims for unlawful acts committed as a result of being trafficked.  The majority of domestic workers remained excluded from the WPS, rendering them vulnerable to wage theft – a key trafficking indicator – without proper oversight.  Nonexistent and weak penalties for passport confiscation did not adequately deter this violation and the pervasiveness of this practice may have left some workers vulnerable to exploitation and potentially trafficking.

  • Significantly increase efforts to investigate, prosecute, and convict traffickers of forced labor crimes, specifically of migrant workers, including domestic servitude, under the anti-trafficking law. 
  • Increase efforts to identify and provide protective services for labor trafficking victims. 
  • Expand trainings to officials across all emirates to better identify potential trafficking cases that originate as labor violations. 
  • Strengthen efforts to punish potential forced labor crimes criminally instead of administratively and refer cases with trafficking indicators, such as complaints of non-payment of wages, passport confiscation, and restriction of movement, for investigation as potential trafficking crimes. 
  • Regularly employ standard procedures for victim identification and referral to quality care among foreign workers, particularly women in commercial sex, domestic workers who have fled their employers, and other vulnerable documented and undocumented migrants to ensure authorities do not penalize victims.  
  • Continue to expand the mandatory use of the WPS for all domestic worker professions to ensure protection from wage theft. 
  • Execute implementing regulations for and strengthen enforcement of the domestic worker law that expands legal protections for domestic workers. 
  • Criminalize passport confiscation with deterrent penalties and ensure officials are trained to consider passport confiscation as a trafficking indicator.

The government increased law enforcement efforts.  Federal Law No. 51 of 2006 and its amendments in Federal Law No. 1 of 2015 criminalized sex trafficking and labor trafficking and prescribed penalties ranging from five years to life in prison as well as fines between 50,000 and 99,100 Emirati dirham (AED) ($13,610 to $26,980) and deportation for non-citizens.  These penalties were sufficiently stringent and, with respect to sex trafficking, commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape.

For the first time since 2012, the government reported statistics on investigations of suspected trafficking cases; officials investigated 27 total cases including 24 for sex trafficking, two for labor trafficking, and one for “selling” victims across the seven emirates.  Officials prosecuted 50 alleged traffickers in 16 cases, including an unknown number of traffickers in 14 sex trafficking cases, and two labor trafficking cases including one case of forced begging; this was compared with the prosecution of 40 alleged traffickers in 19 cases during the previous year.  In one labor trafficking case during the year, officials arrested a foreign unlicensed recruiting agent who illegally facilitated a recruitment scheme of African domestic workers to the UAE through the use of tourist visas.  Once in the UAE, domestic workers were referred to a licensed agency in return for payment by the unlicensed agent, and once the workers began employment, a portion of their salary went to another complicit agent in Africa; the unlicensed agent’s case was pending prosecution at the close of the reporting period, but the government suspended and fined the licensed agency 10,000 AED ($2,720) for involvement in the crime.  Courts convicted 45 traffickers in 18 cases, including an 38 traffickers in 14 sex trafficking cases, five traffickers in three labor trafficking cases including two forced begging cases, and two traffickers in one case of “selling” victims; and sentenced the traffickers to between three months’ and life imprisonment, with the majority of perpetrators receiving imprisonment of one year or more with additional fines.  While the government did not report the nationalities of all traffickers, the vast majority were foreign nationals subject to deportation at the conclusion of their sentences.  In 2021, courts convicted 23 traffickers and handed down similar punishments.  Courts convicted one labor trafficker from a prosecution initiated in 2022, sentenced him to seven years’ and six months’ imprisonment, and ordered him to pay 200,000 AED ($54,450) compensation to the victim; however, the victim’s guardians “renounced” the charges, and the appeals court reduced the traffickers sentence to one year and six months’ imprisonment and ordered the trafficker to pay the victim 200,000 AED ($54,450) in compensation in addition to court expenses.

Although the government reported investigating, prosecuting, and convicting labor traffickers during the year, observers noted Emirati institutions continued to have a limited understanding of how to differentiate between labor trafficking crimes and labor violations.  The government did not routinely investigate as possible trafficking crimes labor law violations that exhibited trafficking indicators, such as passport confiscation, delayed or nonpayment of wages, fraud, contract switching, restriction of movement, and related abuses; generally, the government settled these cases by levying administrative fines or canceling business licenses in lieu of criminal proceedings.  Labor violations, including those involving forced labor, continued to be addressed by the Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratization (MOHRE) through administrative dispute resolution processes and labor courts, including mandating back pay in severe wage theft cases, including collective disputes.  The government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of officials complicit in trafficking crimes.

The government reported cooperating with INTERPOL and several foreign governments, including Ethiopia, the Netherlands, Panama, Sudan, and Vietnam, in potential trafficking investigations and the identification of potential victims.  In October 2022, the National Committee to Combat Human Trafficking (NCCHT) and Dubai Police inaugurated the eighth iteration of the “Human Trafficking Specialist” program at the Dubai Judicial Institute in collaboration with an international organization; this was a five-week diploma program on ways to detect and prevent trafficking, protect victims, and raise societal awareness of the crime.  The program served 118 participants representing national police authorities, human rights associations, shelters, and federal and national government bodies, as well as participants from across the Gulf Cooperation Council countries.  Additionally, MOI facilitated nine trainings and 25 lectures to its staff on human trafficking indicators, human rights, and national and international standards to address the crime.  The MOHRE supported an international organization-led training on forced labor in which 48 labor inspectors participated.  Finally, the Dubai Foundation for Women and Children (DFWAC) provided 11 trainings to its call center and hotline staff focused on quality of service and regulations and policies related to victim care.  Observers noted Emirati officials would benefit from additional targeted training on effective implementation of the anti-trafficking law, victim-centered approaches to law enforcement efforts, screening procedures to identify potential trafficking victims from those arrested for immigration violations or commercial sex, and distinguishing potential labor trafficking cases from labor violations.

The government increased efforts to protect trafficking victims.  In contrast with prior years, the government reported the total number of trafficking victims it identified regardless of a victims’ involvement in law enforcement proceedings.  The government identified and referred to care 67 victims, including 62 sex trafficking victims including three children, and five labor trafficking victims including one child victim of forced begging; this was a significant increase compared with identifying and referring to care 25 total victims in 2021, including 21 sex trafficking victims, three labor trafficking victims including two forced begging victims, and one victim of “selling.”  All identified victims were female foreign nationals.  While the government had standard procedures for victim identification, some officials did not regularly employ these procedures proactively and continued to rely predominantly on third-party referrals to identify victims, including from foreign embassies, religious institutions, or tips received through government hotlines or shelter hotlines (five victims were identified via the shelter in Ras Al Khaimah’s hotline in 2022), smartphone applications, and the internet.  During the year, through an INTERPOL-led operation, authorities activated electronic gates in airports connected to INTERPOL databases to improve identification of forged documents and potential trafficking victims; the government identified a 17-year-old Pakistani sex trafficking victim through this procedure.  Authorities continued to implement a formal referral process to transfer potential trafficking victims from detention centers, hospitals, houses of worship, and facilities run by source country embassies or consulates, as well as those identified from shelter-operated hotlines to government shelters.  Government shelter staff reported that although police were supposed to refer all potential trafficking victims to government shelters, in some cases, police only referred individuals law enforcement had already officially determined to be trafficking victims.  Shelter staff also assessed all individuals referred to the shelter upon arrival using an international organization-issued screening questionnaire to better assess victims’ needs.  While this assessment was shared with law enforcement, authorities did not always consider the shelter’s determination and instead came to a separate conclusion on whether the individual was officially a trafficking victim.  However, shelter staff reported all potential victims had access to shelter and services regardless of law enforcement’s determination and victims could self-refer to shelters without law enforcement approval.  In cases where a victim self-referred to shelter, staff informed law enforcement authorities to begin an investigation while the victim received care.  However, authorities also sometimes held potential victims who encountered law enforcement first at a transitional center until they could make an official determination of their trafficking victim status.  At times, female or male police officers in plain clothes – intended to allay victims’ anxieties – escorted officially identified victims from a government-run detention center to a shelter.  In previous reporting periods, some diplomatic contacts and community leaders reported they were hesitant to refer labor trafficking victims to shelters, as authorities did not always recognize these crimes as trafficking and rather considered them labor violations.  The government reported it was updating its formal referral mechanism to improve identification of labor trafficking victims through coordination with the MOHRE, MOJ, MOI, Ministry of Health, and an international organization, but did not launch an updated version by the close of the reporting period.

The shelters were largely funded through individual donations, local emirate governments, private businesses, religious institutions, and the NCCHT.  The government maintained oversight and funding for shelters in three of the seven emirates (Dubai, Abu Dhabi, and Ras Al Khaimah), offering housing and assistance for all female and child sex trafficking and abuse victims across the country.  The government operated one shelter for men in Abu Dhabi but did not serve any male victims during the year.  Protective services included medical, psychological, legal, educational, rehabilitation and reintegration, vocational training and certificates, and voluntary repatriation with follow-up care after the victim returned home; during the year, the Abu Dhabi shelter signed an MOU with the UAE’s National Health Insurance Company to provide free healthcare to victims under the shelter’s care.  Child trafficking victims and dependents of trafficking victims received services tailored to their needs, including separate living sections and case managers, as well as teachers who provided age-appropriate educational and psycho-social support.  All police departments had a special room for interviewing children and other vulnerable victims.  In March 2023, the government opened a multi-purpose shelter in Dubai specifically to care for children between three and 13 years old.  The Bangladeshi, Philippine, Indian, Sri Lankan, and Ugandan embassies in Abu Dhabi and the Philippine, Indonesian, and Sri Lankan consulates in Dubai provided shelter and other protective services to an unspecified number of their nationals who had been subjected to trafficking during the reporting period.  Other consulates used “foster families“ of the same nationality to host victims until their cases were resolved.  During the reporting year, officials distributed 416,000 AED ($113,260) through the Victims Support Fund to trafficking victims residing at government shelters across the Emirates, which financially supported victims by providing housing and education services, and covering medical expenses, repatriation, or resettlement.

Independent observers alleged authorities jailed some potential victims for “prostitution” offenses, consensual sex outside marriage, or “absconding” from their employers.  Reports also persisted that some potential victims were unwilling to approach law enforcement officials due to fear of being sent to prison for immigration or other violations, such as “absconding” from their employer, rather than being accepted into a shelter as victims of crime.  The MOHRE could reject an “absconding” charge on several grounds, including if the charge was filed for vexatious or fictitious reasons or if the worker already had a pending claim against their employer with the government and it also did not force the employee to return to his or her former place of employment.  The MOHRE did not report how many absconding claims it received nor the number it rejected.  The Dubai police continued to implement a policy that encouraged employers to report their “absconded” domestic workers to authorities to prevent employers from hiring illegal workers and reduce losses incurred by employers whose workers left.  Employers could be fined for hiring a worker illegally and compensated for filing “absconding” charges against a worker; employers had 10 days to report “absconding” workers or risk being fined.  This policy continued during the year and may have exacerbated vulnerabilities of some workers attempting to leave exploitative situations; to this end, officials may have penalized potential trafficking victims whose employers filed absconding” charges during the year.  Media reports and diplomatic observers also reported authorities increased arrests and deportations of individuals working illegally during the year; the government did not consistently employ existing identification guidelines or screen such vulnerable populations for trafficking indicators.

The government reported it exempted from fines trafficking victims who overstayed their visas but did not report how many benefitted from this exemption during the reporting period.  The government did not provide permanent or formal temporary residency status to victims; however, it permitted victims to stay in shelters and participate in court proceedings and worked with international organizations to resettle in third countries, victims who could not return to their countries of origin.  MOI officials could amend the immigration status of victims to assist them in seeking follow-on job opportunities in the UAE.  Migrant workers whose employer had not paid them for 60 days were entitled to legally remain in country and search for a new employer.  The government reported it could provide repatriation assistance to trafficking victims who wished to return to their home countries but did not repatriate any victims during the reporting period.  Shelter staff noted they assisted an unknown number of trafficking victims in finding new employment or sponsors on an ad hoc basis.

The government encouraged victims to assist in the investigation and prosecution of traffickers and provided victim-witness protective services, including private interview rooms, free legal counseling, and safe transportation to court hearings.  Police took measures to prevent communication between the victim and suspect.  Police also enforced two governmental decrees aimed at ensuring the media adhered to victims’ right to privacy and that shelters adequately protected victims.  For example, during the year, a defendant threatened a victim’s family in their home country; the victim reported the threats to shelter staff, who notified police which led to the defendant facing legal action.  According to the NCCHT, victims were informed and assured of their rights when giving testimony.  Shelter staff reported courts attempted to accommodate victims’ desire to leave the country, and most victims were able to depart the UAE with a letter from the presiding judge after the first court hearing.  Police and shelter representatives reported victims often chose immediate repatriation at the UAE’s expense rather than remaining in country to testify against alleged traffickers or see a case through to final adjudication.  However, in 2022, officials reported 49 victims testified in court proceedings.  The government continued to utilize remote court trials following the pandemic as well as provided the opportunity for victims to submit video or written testimony; of the 49 victims who testified, three appeared in court, while the other 46 submitted video testimony.  The government continued to employ its Witness Protection Program through Federal Law No. 14 of 2020, which gave judicial officials the authority to enroll witnesses in the protection program to keep their identities confidential during legal proceedings; the government reported no victims enrolled in the program in 2022, compared with five victims enrolled in 2021.  The government reported victims could file civil suits seeking damages from traffickers but did not report if any victims did so during the reporting period; however, in the sole labor trafficking conviction during the year, courts required the trafficker to pay the victim 200,000 AED ($54,450) in compensation in addition to court expenses.

The government increased efforts to prevent trafficking.  Anti-trafficking efforts were driven chiefly by the NCCHT, led by the Minister of Justice, which met twice during the year as a full plenary, three times to draft a 2023-2025 NAP, and four times with relevant national members to prepare a short-term action plan to address the most urgent issues related to trafficking in the Emirates.  The NCCHT had a budget of 4.2 million AED ($1.14 million) annually, which funded the preparation of a new NAP, public awareness campaigns, and implementing the current action plan.  In January 2023, NCCHT members visited another government in the region as well as an international organization to learn best practices related to victim referral mechanisms and data collection systems, focused on a victim-centered approach.

The government made efforts to prevent forced labor primarily through labor regulatory and monitoring mechanisms, including labor inspection programs that incorporated routine and unannounced inspections of company housing and worksites by a team of full-time labor inspectors and seven dedicated trafficking inspectors.  If a company was found to have violated the labor law following an inspection, the government could fine the company or curtail its ability to operate or hire additional workers.  Furthermore, the government reported individuals found to have engaged in fraud that led to forced labor could face jail time.  Between January and October 2022, the MOHRE conducted more than 485,000 inspection visits to private-sector facilities; from these inspections, officials identified 26,104 violations of the labor law, including 2,931 cases of non-compliance with the WPS, two cases of sexual harassment, 40 cases of workers signing fraudulent documents noting they received their wages, and incorrect data being entered into the WPS to circumvent provisions.  Although the MOHRE reported legal actions were taken against the violating entities – including referral to the PPO for administrative proceedings and imposing fines, it did not report if any of the violations were referred for further investigation or criminal prosecution as a potential trafficking case.

The government’s WPS required and monitored electronic salary payments for private-sector workers via vetted banks, currency exchanges, and financial institutions for all onshore companies employing more than 100 workers (95 percent of the private-sector workforce).  The WPS automatically alerted officials to delayed salary payments of more than 60 days or payments that were less than contractually agreed upon, and after a period of 15 days, authorities administered fines and other enforcement actions, including suspending noncompliant companies and employers’ ability to issue new work permits and increased inspections for companies with at least 50 employees.  The MOHRE reported letters were issued to companies and sent to the Public Prosecutor for WPS violations after salaries were 45 days late; the MOHRE also reported that cases were only dropped when the missing wages were paid and the company was up to date with all salary payments.  However, in July 2022, the MOHRE announced amendments to the WPS regulations, including reducing the percentage of total employees companies must pay through WPS to remain compliant from 90 percent to 80 percent; this change may have limited accountability for employers who neglected to pay their workers, heightening their vulnerability to exploitation.  For the first time, the government reported the number of non-payment of wages cases it handled during the reporting period; between January 2022 and January 2023, the MOHRE handled 46,819 cases of unpaid wages, of which 26,783 were amicably resolved and the other 20,036 were referred to labor courts.  Despite wage theft being considered a trafficking indicator, the government did not refer any such cases to law enforcement for criminal investigation as potential trafficking crimes during the year.  Media and diplomatic sources continued to report some companies retained workers’ bank cards or accompanied workers to withdraw cash, coercively shortchanging employees even when the WPS showed the proper amount paid.  Such cases were difficult to prove in labor courts, given the WPS documented accurate payments via designated bank accounts.  Previously, domestic worker salaries were not required to be paid via the WPS; this, coupled with the lack of legal provisions requiring inspections of domestic worker accommodations, wage payment, and work hours, heightened domestic workers’ vulnerability to exploitation.  In December 2022, the government, through Ministerial Resolution No. 675 of 2022, expanded the coverage of the WPS for certain professions within the domestic worker sector; employers of workers in five out of the 19 domestic worker professions (private agricultural engineers, private trainers, private tutors, public relations officers and home health care providers) had to enroll in the WPS, beginning in April 2023.  For the other 14 professions within the domestic work sector – including domestic workers inside private homes, enrollment in the WPS remained voluntary.  As of March 2023, 24,943 domestic workers (across all professions) had enrolled in the WPS through the MOHRE’s agreement with First Abu Dhabi Bank.  Although domestic worker enrollment was previously voluntary, domestic workers were still able to file complaints of wage theft to the MOHRE; in 2022, 2,980 complaints were received from those in the domestic work professions, of those, 1,636 were resolved amicably, 613 were referred to the labor courts, and 731 cases were closed to do “erroneous accusations,” by the worker.

Article 6 of Emirati Law No. 33 of 2021 prohibited employers “from charging a [private-sector] worker for the fees and costs of recruitment and employment or collecting them from him, whether directly or directly.”  Article 4 of Cabinet Resolution No. 106 of 2022 asserted “evidence should be provided that the recruitment agency is directly responsible for the payment of any commissions necessary to facilitate the arrival of the [domestic] worker and the completion of the employment contract, and that the [domestic] worker will not be charged for such payments.”  However, NGOs, rights groups and observers noted many workers paid recruitment fees in their home country, arriving to the UAE already in debt, heightening their vulnerability to exploitation, including trafficking, as workers were more likely to remain in exploitive employment situations to pay off that debt.  Nonetheless, the government coordinated with labor-source country governments – including the Philippines and Ethiopia, to exchange lists of licensed recruitment agencies and agencies prohibited from recruitment for past violations to ensure workers migrated through regulated recruitment paths; further, a list of authorized recruitment agencies in the UAE continued to be published on the MOHRE’s website.  In 2022, the MOHRE’s labor complaint system began to register complaints related to illegal worker-paid recruitment fees and employers reducing worker’s salaries to refund employers for recruitment fees paid.  The MOHRE inspectors’ guidelines were also updated to include identifying worker-paid recruitment fees or workers’ salary reductions to pay employers for recruitment fees.  Between January 2022 and January 2023, the MOHRE received a total of 6,408 complaints filed by workers demanding the return of recruitment fees; of the 6,408, 2,577 were settled, while the remaining 3,831 were referred to labor courts.  In the same period, 256 domestic workers filed complaints for the recovery of recruitment fees paid; 86 were settled, while 66 cases were closed after officials determined workers made incorrect accusations and withdrew the complaint.  The other 104 complaints were referred to labor courts; for the first time, the government reported two of these cases were subsequently referred to law enforcement for criminal investigation as potential labor trafficking cases.

The MOHRE continued to oversee the licensing and regulation of recruitment agencies, including by requiring a bank guarantee, a physical address, and no prior criminal convictions or labor violations, among other requirements, to receive a license from the government.  The MOHRE could suspend or revoke licenses of recruitment agencies, including in cases of fraud, non-payment of wages and in cases where the agency committed any act that involved trafficking.  In 2022, the government continued to require all domestic worker recruitment be done through private agencies that obtained Tadbeer licenses from the MOHRE.  Agencies with Tadbeer licenses were mandated to provide training to recruited workers, educate them on their legal rights, resolve employee-employer disputes, provide and prove wage payments, verify worker accommodations for compliance with domestic worker law minimum standards, and guarantee repatriation.  Each licensed agency was equipped with a room solely for grievance mediation with a video connection to the MOHRE for official oversight.  Officials also reported when a dispute occurred between a domestic worker and employer, the worker could approach the Tadbeer-licensed agency for assistance instead of fleeing their employer, which rendered a worker undocumented and vulnerable to exploitation.  However, Tadbeer-licensed agencies could not enter or inspect private homes, which made verification of worker accommodations and other protections outlined in the law difficult to obtain.  Since 2019, the MOHRE mandated licensed agencies cover the cost of employer recruitment fees for domestic workers through an insurance policy with a two-year warranty; this policy aimed at ensuring recruitment fees would not be transferred to domestic workers from employers once they arrived in the UAE.  In certain circumstances where a domestic worker terminated employment, employers were entitled to a full refund of the recruitment fees, which the licensed agency would cover.  However, observers noted this insurance policy did not protect workers from fees they incurred from legal and unregulated recruiters in their home country.  As of March 2023, 91 Tadbeer-licensed agencies existed to recruit domestic workers.  Despite the expansion of agencies with Tadbeer licenses, the expensive costs to obtain a license – coupled with mandated insurance requirements to cover recruitment costs – disincentivized some private recruitment agencies from obtaining a Tadbeer certification.  Furthermore, non-Tadbeer-licensed recruitment agencies remained popular – as their services were viewed as cheaper and more flexible and accessible compared with Tadbeer-licensed agencies.  As non-Tadbeer-licensed agencies were not strictly regulated, many continued to be accused of violating labor and immigration laws and failing to guarantee the rights of workers and employers.  In 2022, the MOHRE revoked the licenses of 84 domestic worker recruitment agencies for non-compliance.  In the aforementioned case involving an illegal agent recruiting African domestic workers to work in the UAE via tourist visas, the government suspended and fined the licensed agency 10,000 AED ($2,720) for involvement in the crime.

NGOs and labor-source country embassy representatives continued to raise concerns about the ease with which tourist visas could be converted into work visas for domestic workers looking to circumvent their home countries’ recruitment ban in the UAE – a practice that exacerbated the risk of trafficking for these workers, as they often paid fees to recruitment agencies in both their home countries and in the UAE, and had no protection under UAE law when they arrived on tourist visas.  Furthermore, some workers were unable to switch their visas to employment visas and so continued to work illegally, heightening their vulnerability to exploitation.  In cases where workers were able to convert their visa and find a job, the MOHRE could not track the new employment unless it was formally notified by either employer or employee, which limited oversight over the worker’s new, potentially informal sector job.  However, workers on tourist visas could apply for a work visa at a Tadbeer-licensed agency and find employment, which would allow the MOHRE to track and monitor workers’ employment contracts.  Despite authorities mandating all hiring be conducted through the Tadbeer system, many UAE households continued to employ domestic workers directly or through other recruitment agencies, further increasing the vulnerability of domestic workers to exploitation and trafficking without protection under the law.

In December 2022, the government enacted a new domestic worker law – Federal Law No. 9 of 2022 – and subsequently its executive regulations through Cabinet Resolution No. 106 of 2022, which replaced the 2017 domestic worker law and its 2019 executive regulations.  Federal Law No. 9 provided protections to all 19 types of domestic worker professions and prohibited recruitment and employment of workers younger than the age of 18.  Many of the same limited protections remained from the previous domestic worker law, including broad regulations on rest days and working hours, access to grievance mechanisms and regulations for in-home inspections, which only were allowed on the basis of complaints or reasonable evidence of violations.  However, the law expanded sick leave from 15 days to 30 days, explicitly prohibited employer’s deducting wages from workers (except in cases with workers’ consent, in which up to 25 percent may be deducted if the worker causes loss or damages to the employer’s belongings), and removed a constraint on domestic worker’s ability to terminate a contract.  Article 20 of Law No. 9 stated a contract could be unilaterally terminated at any time by either employer or worker, under certain conditions, including providing notice.  If an employer terminated the contract for reasons not attributed to the domestic worker, the law required the employer pay the worker’s remaining compensation and return ticket; if the domestic worker terminated the employment contract after the probation period in the absence of a contractual breach, the recruitment agency was required to pay for a return ticket and the worker did not owe any compensation to the employer, which may have prevented employers from keeping domestic workers past their contract termination.  Under the previous law, domestic workers who terminated their contract after the probation period in the absence of abuse or contractual breach would have to pay for their own return ticket and pay the employer a compensation amount equal to one month’s total wages.  Article 10 of Cabinet Resolution No. 106 of 2022 granted domestic workers the right to terminate employment without notice if an employer failed to meet contractual obligations such as payment of wages, or if the employee was subject to sexual harassment or physical or verbal abuse by the employer; in these cases, a Tadbeer-licensed recruitment agency was required to provide shelter to the domestic worker.

Private-sector workers were granted permission to terminate their employment contract and have the freedom to leave the country or switch employers at any time without employer approval through Ministerial Decree No. 765 and 766 of 2015; however, this decision included the requirement that the worker provide between one and three months’ notice, depending on the initial contract terms, to leave an employer.  Federal law No. 33 of 2021, enacted in February 2022 to replace the previous private-sector labor law, provided more flexibility on contract termination terms, including greater flexibility to terminate contracts for both employers and workers during the probationary period and allowed a worker 180 days to find a new job following contract termination (compared with 30 days under the previous labor law), without incurring overstay fines or becoming undocumented, which may have prevented potential exploitation, including trafficking for such workers.  The 2022 labor law also eliminated the previous requirement where workers had to compensate their employer when terminating a contract prior to its expiration; under the new law, only in cases where workers or employers did not abide by the notice period, would one party compensate the other for the remaining part of the notice period.  In cases of abuse or breach of contract, the worker could terminate the contract without notice.  Furthermore, the new law prohibited discrimination of any form in the workplace, provided new flexible employment options, and introduced explicit prohibitions against forced labor, which previously only existed in the anti-trafficking law.

For both private-sector workers and domestic workers, to be able to leave the country or switch employers, workers had to physically possess their passport.  Although Article 13 of Law No. 33 of 2021 explicitly prohibited employers confiscating worker’s passports, the law did not stipulate penalties.  Separately, Law No. 9 of 2022 for domestic workers also explicitly prohibited employers confiscating passports and stipulated a 500 AED ($136) fine for employers who did so, but it did not criminalize passport confiscation (while the previous domestic worker law did not stipulate penalties).  Despite the explicit prohibition of passport confiscation for all workers, the absence of penalties for private-sector workers and low administrative fines for domestic workers did not adequately deter employers from this practice during the year.  Moreover, the MOHRE received 178 cases where employers withheld their worker’s passports, of which 132 cases were settled and passports returned; the government did not report the outcome of the other 46 cases, although they were likely referred to the labor courts.  Because the government did not enforce a prohibition on employers confiscating workers’ passports, this practice remained pervasive and may have left some workers vulnerable to exploitation and potentially trafficking.

The government continued to post informational anti-trafficking notices at airports, implement training courses for high-risk groups, and disseminate publications in various languages directed at the most at-risk communities.  The campaigns also raised awareness of penalties for trafficking and publicized hotlines.  Airport banners specifically targeted terminals based on nationalities with high workforce numbers in the UAE.  Relevant authorities held a series of lectures and training programs in workers’ residences and in recruiting offices to raise awareness on the types of trafficking crimes and ways to communicate with law enforcement authorities and shelters.  In conjunction with World Day Against Trafficking in Persons, the Minister of Justice, as chairman of the NCCHT, published an official speech that was amplified on the committee’s social media and website and the PPO shared the penalties for human trafficking crimes in the country, including through digital means, on its social media.  The DFWAC launched a social media campaign focused on child sex trafficking and forced labor that included publishing three awareness videos and separately, the foundation launched a campaign to raise awareness of human trafficking in digital spaces, focusing on educating the public on protection from online exploitation, fake job ads, and how to report suspicious ads.  The government funded and ran a 24-hour toll-free hotline for reporting cases of trafficking, delayed wage payments, or other labor violations; it operated in Arabic, English, Russian, and Urdu.  Calls were categorized and automatically alerted police in suspected trafficking cases.  Additionally, the MOHRE, MOI, DFWAC, the Aman Center for Women and Children had dedicated multilingual toll-free hotlines; MOI continued to host a mobile phone application that allowed users to access certain police services on their phones, and victims of trafficking or witnesses to the crime could use the application to file reports as well.  In Dubai, law enforcement authorities ran a separate hotline, and UAE-wide there remained a 24-hour toll-free number for migrant workers to vocalize complaints or general inquiries.  During the year, the PPO launched a mobile app which allowed anyone to report and provide information on human trafficking crimes – including photos, video or audio recordings.  For the first time, the government reported identifying five trafficking victims from calls received at the Aman Center’s hotline; the DFWAC hotline received 60 calls during the year, but none were identified as potential trafficking crimes or victims.

The government continued to collaborate with labor-source countries and international organizations to develop orientation programming for workers prior to arrival in the country; separately, the government continued to utilize Tawjeeh Centers to provide mandatory orientation services to migrant workers on their rights, how to file complaints, UAE labor law, and health and safety regulations, as well as a SIM card.  The government continued to utilize its trafficking-related MOUs with Armenia, Australia, Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, The Gambia, India, Indonesia, Nepal, Pakistan, the Philippines, Sierra Leone, Thailand, Uganda, and Vietnam to regulate recruitment mechanisms and prevent contract switching.  In 2022, the government signed additional MOUs with Italy, Poland, and Serbia on law enforcement and judicial cooperation for human trafficking cases.  Finally, in October 2022, the government passed a law that allowed for the birth registration for children born out of wedlock, including for children born of single mothers, thereby reducing the child’s vulnerability to exploitation and trafficking.  The government did not make efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts in the UAE.  The Ministry of Foreign Affairs provided anti-trafficking training to its diplomatic personnel.

As reported over the past five years, human traffickers exploit foreign victims in the UAE.  Foreign workers comprise nearly 90 percent of the UAE’s population and are recruited globally.  Lower wage labor, including most manual labor and a significant portion of the service sector, is provided almost entirely by migrant workers predominantly from South and Southeast Asia and the Middle East, with a growing percentage from sub-Saharan Africa.  It is not uncommon for employers to subject some of these workers to conditions indicative of forced labor, such as passport retention, non-payment of wages and unpaid overtime, restrictions on movement, contract switching, fraudulent employment promises, substandard food and housing provisions, or a failure to meet other contractual agreements.  Adults from some of these countries travel willingly to the UAE to work as domestic workers, security guards, drivers, gardeners, massage therapists, beauticians, hotel cleaners, or elsewhere in the service sector, but traffickers subject some of them to forced labor or sex trafficking after arrival.  In 2021, one human rights group reported migrant workers employed to support the Dubai Expo – held between September 2021 and March 2022 – were allegedly subjected to conditions indicative of forced labor, including being charged recruitment fees, non-payment or delayed payment of wages, passport confiscation, and other abuses, including racial discrimination.  Workers were also reportedly reluctant to access available grievance mechanisms for fear of reprisal by employers or authorities.

Observers continue to report the UAE serves as a trafficking hub where recruiters sell migrants to families who afterwards illegally transport them to other countries in the Gulf.  As reported in the previous year, the UAE has in recent years become a primary destination for Ugandans seeking employment as domestic workers and security guards.  Many Pakistanis are reportedly hired on promises they will receive large salaries, medical benefits, and accommodations, but after reaching the UAE the promises go unfulfilled, with some discovering the companies that hired them are fraudulent and leaving them to obtain unregulated work due to their legal status, rendering them at increased vulnerability of exploitation and trafficking.  For expatriate workers and domestic workers especially, the kafala or visa sponsorship system in the UAE restricts their ability to leave a position without prior notice.  Despite legal measures allowing workers to change sponsors or terminate their employment, some employers continue to exercise unilateral power over foreign workers’ movements, deny laborers working illegally the ability to change employers, restrict permission for them to leave the country, and threaten employees with abuse of immigration processes, which heightens their vulnerability to trafficking.  Traffickers subject some women, predominantly from Central Asia, South and Southeast Asia, East Africa, Eastern Europe, Iraq, Iran, and Morocco, to sex trafficking in the UAE, and most trafficking cases registered in the UAE are classified as sexual exploitation despite significant labor trafficking concerns.  In the previous reporting period, anecdotal reports alleged an increase of traffickers in Laos recruiting young women through social media for commercial sex in Dubai.  In 2021, anecdotal reports also alleged Mongolian nationals were subjected to labor trafficking in the UAE for herding, domestic work, and in circus performance.  In 2022, there were reports of traffickers exploiting foreign national victims in forced labor in cyber scam operations in the UAE.  Per media sources, some cases of child sex trafficking involve traffickers forging ages on passports to facilitate undetected entry into the UAE.  Recruiters in some source countries work as individual agents rather than for regulated companies, complicating law enforcement and monitoring efforts.

Many source-country labor recruiters charge workers exorbitant fees in their home countries, causing workers to commence employment in the UAE owing debts in their respective countries of origin, increasing their vulnerability to trafficking through debt-based coercion.  Reports of employers engaging in the practice of contract-switching persist, leading to less desirable and lower paying jobs for migrant workers after arriving in the UAE.  Traffickers often recruit victims from the large foreign national population already in the country.  Some migrant workers enter the UAE on tourist visas and work for an employer who does not apply to exchange the worker’s tourist visa for the required work visa in order for the worker to have legal residency; this subsequently can be used as coercion to exploit the worker.  Observers noted the frequency with which migrants sought to convert tourist to work visas remained a prevalent practice; one observer noted Filipino workers transiting UAE for work elsewhere in the region often deplane in Dubai and obtain a tourist visa to seek work in the UAE instead of their final destination.  To address this trend, the government announced a “job seekers” visa – which allows a prospective worker to remain in UAE for up to six months while he or she looks for work; however, this visa requires an individual to have a bachelor’s degree or equivalent to apply, and has been reportedly only used by skilled workers who have the income to remain in UAE without a salary for several months while seeking employment.  Moreover, during the year, diplomatic contacts reported the government increased scrutiny on individuals residing and traveling to the UAE on tourist visas – and in early 2023, media reports claimed individuals who overstayed their tourist visa could be charged with “absconding.”  Although pandemic related travel and entry restrictions eased during the year, traffickers reportedly continued to use illegal online markets on social media to advertise and sell domestic workers already residing in the country; traffickers also continued to target workers already residing in the country who had experienced pandemic-related job loss with false promises of better jobs through online platforms.  In previous reporting periods, pandemic-related lockdown measures increased the vulnerability of domestic workers to trafficking by reinforcing their isolation and restricting their movement.

In June 2021, media sources reported the government denied the renewal of work permits or issuance of new work permits for Nigerian nationals in certain employment categories working in the Emirates; one media source reported, as of October 2021, more than 700 Nigerians experienced job loss and therefore became undocumented in the country; some migrants traveled back to Nigeria, while others remained stranded due to their inability to pay for travel home, increasing their vulnerability to exploitation, including trafficking.  Despite widespread expansion of Tadbeer-licensed agencies in 2022, many UAE households continued to employ domestic workers directly or through private recruitment agencies that were not government regulated, further increasing the vulnerability of domestic workers to exploitation and trafficking without protection under the law.  Furthermore, some employers sponsoring domestic workers continued to use online platforms to advertise the selling of domestic workers.  According to UAE shelter staff, migrant workers will sometimes start with one employer and for various reasons, including abuse or exploitation, low salary, or simple dissatisfaction with the job, will follow alternate employment opportunities that ultimately prove fictitious, as traffickers in the UAE are adept at using manipulation to entice laborers with fraudulent higher salaries.  Cuban nationals working in the UAE may have been forced to work by the Cuban government.

During the reporting period, there were no allegations the UAE unlawfully recruited or used child soldiers.  In September 2019, the UAE reportedly ceased providing direct support to Security Belt Forces in Yemen, which allegedly unlawfully recruited or used child soldiers.  In June 2020, the UN Secretary-General delisted the Saudi Arabia-led Coalition in Yemen from the annexes of the UN report on Children and Armed Conflict.  During a previous reporting period, an international organization alleged the government, as a member of a multi-nation coalition that commenced military operations against Houthi rebel forces in Yemen in 2015, provided training and coordinated operations with the Security Belt Forces, Hadhrami Elite Forces, and Shabwani Elite Forces – proxy militias fighting Houthi forces and terrorists in Yemen that allegedly unlawfully recruited or used child soldiers.  Media also previously reported officers associated with Sudan’s Rapid Support Force took bribes from families to unlawfully recruit children to serve as combatants in Yemen during that same period.  Emirati officers allegedly trained and commanded some Sudanese combatants during the previous reporting period.  While the UAE did not directly commission those forces, the Saudi Arabia-led Coalition fighting with Emirati and Yemeni government forces coordinated with Sudanese units that allegedly unlawfully recruited or used child soldiers during those years.

U.S. Department of State

The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future