HRD Wants to Keep Our Passports

Our head of HRD sent a memo this morning telling all expats that we must bring our passports to the office for secure storage’ in the school safe. They claim the Ministry of Education requires all expat passports be on campus and available should a Ministry Inspector show up unannounced.

I’m new to this school. Returning teachers say this request is most probably a knee-jerk reaction to the 3 teachers who did runners last year. There were also 2 the year before, so I’m told.

From where I stand, letting the school hold my passport would be a mistake, giving them final say over all out-of-country travel. This would include potential medical emergency evacuation and even evacuating under conditions of extreme political unrest. No way will I give this school that kind of control over my life! They already have a signed copy of my passport. That should do it.

As you can imagine, the faculty room has been buzzing with conversation. Except for a couple of teachers, we have decided to stand united against this request. They can’t fire all of us!

Does anyone have experience at a school that requires teachers to turn over their passports for “safe keeping?” How did that work out? Am I just being paranoid?

Thanks ISR for sharing this,
Mr. G

Comments? Please scroll to participate in this ISR Discussion

44 thoughts on “HRD Wants to Keep Our Passports

  1. This happened to me at a fake international school in Saudi. The US Embassy said they could not do anything. They school was the most shifty I ever saw. I soon learned that grading was a scam, games were played against non South Africans against all other foreign nationals to undermine us, no materials, unruly students, unsafe housing, locals were paid heaps more…Sewer in housing constantly backing up, etc. Teachers had to use fingerprints to clock in, the school was wildly unorganized and abusive towards teachers and staff. I had to beg to get my passport back and again to leave. Even those who run this site were unhelpful and accusatory. Since I left, many nightmarish things at the school were reported.

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  2. When I worked in Egypt they would sometimes have our passports for several weeks at a time as they renewed visas which was a long drawn out process. I never felt worried but I worked in a reputable school and if you needed your visa (and people often did if they wanted to leave for an Eid Holiday or something) they would be given it back no questions and if for some reason someone needed a visa they would be put to the top of the pile. However, I would never leave my passport in what was purportedly the ‘safekeeping’ of a Human Resources office, particularly in a country that isn’t renowned for its human rights record. Keep resisting and if it becomes problematic indeed do a runner (if you are in the position to be able to) at a point when your passport is returned to you.

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  3. Passports are the property of the issuing government. No way should a school hold them. Even Saudi Arabia stopped this dodgy practice a few years ago. Let them have a photocopy on file but never hand the original over. Huge red flag as others gave said.

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  4. In addition to the advice you’ve been given, I would add this: if you worked with a placement service (Search Associates, Schrole, etc.), contact your counselor there. They might have direct experience and thus good advice on how to handle this situation, as well as know that the school you are at has ‘issues’ and can warn future potential candidates, and in some cases, stop working with the school all together.
    Good luck with this–I’d agree with the others: NEVER give your passport away. Any HR outfit can work with a color copy. Hope it works out.

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  5. In addition to the advice you’ve been given, I would add this: if you worked with a placement service (Search Associates, Schrole, etc.), contact your counselor there. They might have direct experience and thus good advice on how to handle this situation, as well as know that the school you are out has ‘issues’ and can warn future potential candidates, and in some cases, stop working with the school all together.
    Good luck with this–I’d agree with the others: NEVER give your passport away. HR can work with a color copy. Hope it works out.

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  6. Huuuuge red flag. I’m chiming in on the exit visa front. Many middle eastern countries require an exit visa (permission to leave the country) from your employer. Even if they don’t withhold your passport, they can stop you from leaving after your work visa has been issued. Demand a multiple exit visa in addition to retaining your passports. I once had a school try to tell me that teachers could no longer get multiple exit visas. I made it very clear that they would not get my passport for application of a work visa until I had gotten, in writing, confirmation that I would be issued a multiple exit visa upon my request (your employer must approve your multiple exit visa initially-then you can leave the country whenever you like until the multiple exit visa expires). It is very good that your staff is banding together. Good luck!

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  7. If a school refuses to return a passport to you upon request, assuming there is no legitimate visa processing issues, consider matching immediately to your nearest Consulate or Embassy to report it stolen and have a new one issued. Other posters are also correct about needing an exit visa as well. So physically having your passport DOES NOT mean you can leave at any time. The school is already protected from runners.

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    1. One more thing about this if this is indeed Saudi. We ALWAYS had multiple exit re-entry visas while we lived there (a decade). If a school in Saudi will give you single visas on request… then fine. But if a school gives you any problems issuing you exit visas, then I would part ways as soon as possible. You’re not their slave. But unfortunately people in that region can treat others that way to this day. After all, slavery was only outlawed in Saudi in the 1980s.

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    2. Don’t do it!! That is not OK! Not even in 7 years in China was I requested to leave my passport at school. Your passport is your ID! You are supposed to carry it with you wherever you go! This is insane!!

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  8. That happened to me in the first job I worked in Saudi. They asked for my passport to process my visa, pretty standard. I did not get it back until the day after I taught my last class. It’s illegal, but once they have it, there is nothing your consulate can do to enforce the law or get it back for you. That’s a sign of a really bad school, to be honest. They do it so you won’t pull a runner, which is an issue for schools with terrible working conditions.

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  9. I remember a school I worked at in Egypt trying to keep our passports and insisting that they keep the original copies of our certificates. This was to prevent teachers from doing a runner although they claimed it was a requirement by law in case the school was inspected. They were lying of course. In the end they did not get my passport and I made up a plausible reason for needing back the certificates, some of which they had stapled and damaged.

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  10. I currently work in Bahrain and the LMRA makes it VERY clear no employer is to keep your passport and if they want to do so , to report it immediately. Thankfully here the only time you turn in your passport is for permit renewal and it is returned within a day or 2 as its a super fast process. Do Not hand them your passport for keeping. You are more than capable to look after your own passport!

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  11. I am shocked by the people who say they are fine with their school holding their passport. That is your only legal proof of identity in a foreign country. No one should have care and control of that passport (unless for visa processing) except you. And when someone else has it, you should have a receipt proving that they have it.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. I worked at a top school in Thailand and they kept all our passports in a safe at school. But we could always go get it if we needed it. However I do not think they would have tried to force it if someone was uncomfortable with it. In another country HR did not ask to keep our passports as a rule. However they were constantly dealing with visas and residency and often had to keep them for long periods of time due to that.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. An ex colleague of mine surrendered his passport working at a school in the Middle East. He then tried to leave after the school proved to be a toxic place to work. He gave notice, and they withheld his passport, preventing him from leaving the country. They wanted large sums of money in addition to withholding pay. No organisation should ever ask you to surrender your passport. It’s your only way out in an emergency.

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  14. I was happy to give mine and my families passports to the school HR for storage in Thailand.

    It made it much easier for visa renewal time as HR could organise all that for us and we were only needed for the final steps. There was never any issue (or delay) with requesting it whenever required, including leaving the country.

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  15. Never. It is a legal document that you must always have access to. Not to mention if you want to travel on the weekends. I live in Oman and pop over to Dubai all the time. There is no way I would ever turn over my passport and that kind of request would elicit alarm bells. I would honestly be looking for a new position.

    You have every right to be able to have your passport with you at all times. Any job that tries to “hold onto” it is likely committing a crime (research what the law is in your country). It is an attempt to control you and should be seen as such. No reputable place would ever make this kind of request.

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  16. If this is Saudi Arabia, it is illegal according to the Ministry of Labour for any organisation to hold your passport. They can have a copy which would have been sent to the Ministry already.
    DO NOT TURN IN YOUR PASSPORT.
    This is an illegal practice. Anonymously report this to the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Labour.
    The school will be investigated and that WILL be stopped.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. This is a fact. Where exactly in Saudi is this school located? Schools in major cities do not require staff to turn in their passports.

      Liked by 1 person

  17. Love the generalized photo of the entire Gulf area. Making people assume these are the countries that require and expect this. Don’t let a few bad apples create generalizations for an entire region of countries and schools.

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  18. We are currently in a similar situation. As soon as we arrived to the school last month, they took all our passports for visa processing… it’s been over a month and we don’t have our passports yet. They sent an email explaining we are getting our passports soon, but soon is at some point in September.
    Lately, I’ve been thinking about it often. When I get my passport back, never again.
    I didn’t like that they asked for passports as soon as you stepped out of the bus from the airport, you have it handy, you are tired and not thinking this through.
    Nobody here is in possession of their passport, and we did only get a 70 days business visa. Seems legit but still very uncomfortable situation.

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    1. The process is often long for the initial processing and everything is pretty slow during the summer months. This is normal practice.

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  19. When I worked in Saudi Arabia for an English language school more than a decade ago, I gave my employer my passport. That was what the situation required at the time, so I did it.

    According to the United States government, it is illegal to give your passport to anybody. So you may be in a situation that no matter what you do, it is illegal to some authority. If the original poster is working with other teachers about this issue, please make sure you point out the laws of the U.S. government.

    Saudi Arabia, and the Gulf states, have an iqama system for employment, which can lead to some unique problems and issues. The actions of the school in the OP is most likely Saudi and i would bet that it is. The school itself has to adjust to certain international standards in order to be successful, but the owner of the school may have a very different idea about that.

    Best of luck….

    Liked by 1 person

  20. No way would I allow a school to do this. I value my freedom over a job and money. A memo like that would probably start me looking for my next job elsewhere. I hope this is a lack of skill and knowledge in the HRD rather than anything sinister, but I think you are 100% right to refuse.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I currently work in Saudi Arabia. We have not been asked to surrender our passports, nor would we. Once they have your passport they can decide if and when you may leave the country. Report the school to the ministry of education. Ask for their feedback perhaps.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Does Saudi law stipulate that this action is illegal? Some employers make the case that it is illegal NOT to hold onto other people’s passports.

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  21. I agree that is alarming. However it doesn’t make much difference if you need an exit visa to leave the country.
    I would avoid. There could be a family emergency and then you find the person with the key to the passport safe is miles out of town.
    British Embassy not much use in my experience.

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    1. The British Embassy (High Commission in Commonwealth countries) can be useless to British citizens, inaccessible in person or even by phone. Apparently they hold the best parties for the diplomatic set.in each capital city. In Nigeria the High Commission was a F’ing disgrace.

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  22. I was in KSA about 5 years ago where I was summoned to HR [who had my passport]. The rules had changed and HR was required to let me keep my passport or HR would continue to store it. I was happy to let them keep it. However I was single without dependents so I understand the concerns.

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    1. That’s an article from 2005, though. I currently work in the UAE and once my visa was stamped in my passport, it was returned to me.

      Liked by 1 person

  23. Submit a copy (notarised if necessary). It should serve the same school/country purpose and you get to cooperate with the supposed intent of the school and keep your passport.

    Liked by 1 person

  24. Get in touch with your embassy and tell them what the school is asking. They will normally contact the school and advise them that all passport holders are required to ensure that Nobody but themselves have possession of the passport, which as someone pointed out already, belongs to the country of origin, not the passport holder.
    IF they refuse, then call the department of state if you are American or the equivalent in your home country. They’ll intervene normally with the embassy.

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  25. You do not give up your passport, unless of course, you are a poor migrant worker who has an employer who demands it and you give out of fear. The reality is you explain that your Consulate/Embassy requests you to keep your passport in case of any emergency. Actually, if memory serves me well, the passport belongs to your issuing government, not really yours to give up, unless it’s revoked.

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  26. As one of my favourite directors used to say, “It will all be fine, until it isn’t.” And that is when you need your passport. I was lucky. I was leaving a country with security issues, and agreed to a contract before arriving that bore no resemblance to the one I was expected to sign when I arrived. HR was displeased. I was replacing someone who had left in a “medical emergency,” so they wanted to replace an agreed 1-year contract with a 2-year contract I could not commit to. Then I realised they had someone waiting for certification and ready to replace me, so at my 6 month probation interview, I respectfully resigned, gave a month’s notice with a request for assignment of my visa (with new offer of employment) and left for spring break with a carry-on bag – without my possessions and without my passport, because I had a dual passport. HR called it a runner. They threatened me with legal implications including imprisonment on return for violations of my visa. It was frankly terrifying. After weeks of negotiations with former colleagues at consulates, waiting in hotels in the region, and above all the intervention of a director with integrity, they couriered my passport. I cannot imagine doing this with a family, or in the pandemic.

    Liked by 1 person

  27. You are not being paranoid.

    I even get a bit nervous when schools request me to hand over my passport for legitimate visa processing.

    It is always a risk to hand over a passport to anyone, even to an organization that you trust. For example, what if visa processing takes longer than expected? Yet, some of this cannot be avoided.

    In your situation, though, there is no legitimate reason to hand over a passport. Safekeeping?! It’s safer with you.

    At one of my previous schools in the MENA region, a member of the technology department was deported from the country for taking digital identity documents of teachers and using them to create counterfeit foreign passports…

    We must protect ourselves by protecting our passports.

    Liked by 1 person

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