Qatar's emir approved reform of the country's much-criticised "kafala" labour laws on Tuesday, state media said.
The Qatar News Agency said the emir had issued a new law overseeing the sponsorship system -- which currently only allows workers to leave the country with the approval of their employer -- as well as rules which allow workers to switch jobs.
But it is unlikely that the announced changes go far enough to placate critics, and they may not come into force until almost 2017 at the earliest.
QNA said Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani had approved reforms "on the regulation of the entry and exit of expatriates and their residency".
"All concerned authorities, each in their capacity, are to implement the law and it will be applicable one year after its date of publication in the official gazette."
Under the new proposals, workers will be able to leave the country after giving at least three days' notice to the interior ministry.
Officials will then contact the employer or sponsor for approval.
In addition, workers will be allowed to change jobs at the end of a contract, without the consent of their bosses.
Qatar had announced earlier this year that it was committed to reform of the "kafala" system, which has been the object of scorn from rights groups, ever since the country was awarded the right to host the football World Cup in 2022.
However, changes to the laws have been the subject of fierce debate within Qatar itself, with the country's main advisory body, the Shura Council, questioning reforms earlier this summer.