United Arab Emirates

Country Profile

Facts & Figures

The United Arab Emirates is home to the the 2nd highest percentage of foreign workers, at 89% of the total population.¹ This has a significant impact on national attitudes toward the employment of foreign domestic workers. An ILO report diplays a "dramatic feminization" of the foreign domestic work force in the 1980s, where female foreign domestic workers experienced a 2,398% increase between 1975 and 1985.² The total figure has continued to increase since then. However, the available data is quite outdated and results of the census are not easily accessible.

The main sending countries of migrant domestic workers represented in the UAE are India, Sri Lanka, Philippines, Indonesia, and Ethopia.³ A migrant domestic worker's country of origin has historically affected their pay in the UAE. Workers from the Philippines were considered preferable due to their high English ability, but in recent years have been replaced for a large part by Indonesian women.⁴ However, regardless of their position as a preferred ethinicity, the average salary for Indonesian migrant domestic workers is decreasing due to a combination of increased poverty in Indonesia.⁵

The extremely high prevalence of migrant domestic workers in the United Arab Emirates causes significant social concerns, as much of the modern lifestyle in the country has been enabled by the trend of employing these workers. But as the foreign workers greatly outnumber UAE citizens themselves, policies that aim to limit thier numbers have gained traction, and media reports highly scruitinize this group.⁶


Project 189 targets migrant workers in the more general area of the Middle East, and their site lists a series of programs and phone numbers that foreign domestic workers can call in the case that they require assistance.

The Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratisation has 37 "Tawjeeh" centers which provide information to workers about their rights and responsibilities. They also offer education about the UAE's culture and customs. 39 "Tadbeer" centers across the country provide foreign domestic workers with copies of their contracts and information about visas. Both resources have chat functions via which a worker can reach out to the service in order to request help, as well as news pages providing recent updates that may be pertinent to the situations of foreign domestic workers.

Legal Framework

The United Arab Emirates also uses the Kafala visa sponsorship system.

Until recent years, the legal framework protecting foreign domestic workers in the UAE was extremely limited.

The overarching UAE Labour Law Federal Law No. (8) of 1980 which regulates work and provides protections to most workers in the UAE specifies that it is not applicable to "domestic servants working in Private residences and the like." Due to this, the legal protections and regulations for foreign domestic workers in the UAE are very limited. The only applicable legal documents are those pertaining to immigration in general, as well as one amendment.

Federal Law No. (6) for 1973 Concerning Immigration and Residence details the requirements for entry permissions and visas for immigrants to the UAE.

The amendment concerning immigration and residence specifies limitations for non-nationals of the UAE to hire foreign domestic workers. They require that the non-national employer must earn a minimum salary of 2,000 USD, and that they must pay one year's salary to the UAE government. It also reinforces the Kafala system's exit permit requirement in order to leave the country. In contrast, nationals of the UAE are allowed to sponsor up to three foreign domestic workers, with no minimum income requirement.

Federal Law No. 10 of 2017 shows significant positive development, as it lists regulations for the employment of foreign domestic workers which protect the most basic rights of the workers. However, the provisions of the law still leave much room for exploitation--for example, Article 15 requires employers to provide a "decent accomodation," without detailing what exactly this entails.


The Kafala system contininues to be a problematic system in the UAE, tying employees to employers in what often becomes an exploitative relationship.

The lack of concrete regulations and protections for migrant domestic workers in the UAE has put workers at even more risk of abuse and exploitation. Workers have been reported to typically work between 16-21 hours daily with minimal breaks, and often also work on the weekends, for very low wages that often amount to around 15-30 cents per hour. They report poor living and sleeping conditions, and fleeing from even an abusive employer has harsh consequences for the employee.⁷

Furthermore, employers are reported to have deducted the cost of food and healthcare from wages. The government's failure to establish and enforce clear regulations on the treatment and protection of workers makes foreign domestic workers in the UAE particularly vulnerable to exploitation and abuse by their employers. Reports of health ailments caused by the work, along with physical and sexual abuse are also not uncommon.⁸


  1. Admin, A. (2019, May 31). UAE Migrant and Domestic Workers Abuse. Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain. https://www.adhrb.org/2019/05/uae-migrant-and-domestic-workers-abuse/
  2. Sabban, R. (n.d.). MIGRANT WOMEN IN THE UNITED ARAB EMIRATES The case of female domestic workers. Gender Promotion Programme, International Labour Office Geneva, 9.
  3. Ibid, 10.
  4. Ibid, 11.
  5. Ibid, 11.
  6. Ibid, 12-13.
  7. Admin, A. (2019, May 31). UAE Migrant and Domestic Workers Abuse. Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain. https://www.adhrb.org/2019/05/uae-migrant-and-domestic-workers-abuse/
  8. Sönmez, S., Apostopoulos, Y., Tran, D., & Rentrope, S. (2011, December). Human rights and health disparities for migrant workers in the UAE. Health and Human Rights Journal. https://www.hhrjournal.org/2013/08/human-rights-and-health-disparities-for-migrant-workers-in-the-uae/.