DOHA, Qatar can’t seem to shake ongoing controversy in the buildup to soccer’s 2022 World Cup — even as it introduces a set of new laws designed to improve the rights of migrant workers.

The legislation that takes effect on Tuesday Dec 13 is billed as a means of lessening the grip of corporate employers on the Gulf Emirate’s 2.1 million expatriates.

However, Amnesty International’s report “New Name, Old System?” attacks the new laws as “barely scratching the surface of labour exploitation.”

In a statement, it cites the continuous implementation of exit visas, along with the right to hold employees’ passports, as evidence that human rights abuses for its hundreds of thousands of migrant workers are not being addressed forcefully.

Qatar’s labour laws garnered worldwide attention in 2013 following release of French footballer Zahir Belounis after a two-year limbo existence.

Following a pay dispute with Qatari club El Jaish, Belounis was not granted permission to leave the country. He contemplated a hunger strike and even suicide before he was allowed to leave after an intervention by the French government.

Qatar’s Government Communications Office has vehemently denied Amnesty’s claims in a statement.

“We remain committed to the development of a labour system that is fair to both employers and employees alike,” it said. “These new legislative changes, combined with ongoing enforcement and a commitment to systemic reform … will ensure workers’ rights are respected across the entire labour pathway.”

The intention to implement new laws was first declared in 2015, in a statement that promised to fine employers for confiscating workers’ passports, and unveiled the formation of an Exit Permit Grievances Committee.

It also promised to remove Qatar’s heavily criticized “kafala” system, a practice common in the Middle East where expats rely on their employers for visa sponsorships and maintaining legal status.

In general, workers were not allowed to switch jobs without approval from their current employers.

But rather than completely abolish workers’ reliance on their employers for residency, the new system means workers’ ties to employers will terminate after the length of their contract, or a maximum of five years.

In addition, workers’ passports can be requested to be held by Qatari employers in certain cases where they live in confines that are considered at risk of being robbed.

“This new law may get rid of the word ‘sponsorship’ but it leaves the same basic system intact,” Amnesty said in its statement.

“It is good that Qatar has accepted that its laws were fueling abuse, but these inadequate changes will continue to leave workers at the mercy of exploitative bosses.”

Amnesty said it wants Qatar “to conduct a systematic reform of its labour laws that unambiguously abolishes exit permits, completely bans passport confiscation, and frees workers from the requirement to get their employer’s permission to change jobs.”

“At the halfway point of preparations for the 2022 World Cup, the Qatari authorities have not done enough to address clearly documented human rights issues,” it added. “FIFA simply cannot continue to remain shamefully ambivalent to the plight of workers in Qatar.”

A FIFA spokesman said it “will closely follow the impact of the new law,” while urging “the Qatari authorities to implement the new law in a way which significantly increases the protection of the rights of migrant workers employed in the country.”