Qatar, isolated by its neighbors in a diplomatic crisis, announced on Wednesday a visa-free entry program for 80 nationalities to stimulate air transport, tourism and B2B activities.
“The visa exemption scheme will make Qatar the most open country in the region,” tourism department official Hassan al-Ibrahim told a press conference in Doha.
Interior ministry official Mohamed Rashed al-Mazroui said the nationals of 80 countries would only need to present a valid passport for entry to the energy-rich Gulf state which is to host football’s 2022 World Cup.
Nationals of 33 countries will be authorized to stay for 180 days and the other 47 for up to 30 days, periods which are renewable a single time. Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh — three major exporters of skilled workers from south Asia to the Middle East are not in the list. Indians can visit Doha for 30 days without visa.
Mazroui said the countries were selected on the basis of security and economic considerations, or for the buying-power of their nationals.
On August 3, Qatar created a new permanent residents status for certain groups of foreigners, including those who have worked for the benefit of the emirate, a first for the Gulf.
Under the new rules, children with a Qatari mother and a foreign father can benefit from the new status, along with foreign residents who have “given service to Qatar” or have “skills that can benefit the country”.
Those deemed eligible for the new status will be afforded the same access as Qataris to free public services, such as health and education.
Qatar’s new law is the first in the GCC union to bestow noncitizens with the economic benefits akin to those under full citizenship — including preferential hiring — as well as the stability of permanent residency rather than temporary visas that must be renewed annually.
According to reports, thousands of citizens across the GCC are intermarried. But with spousal transfer of citizenship difficult at best, most retain their home country’s citizenship even when marrying, living and working in another GCC state.
When the crisis began, the blockading countries recalled their citizens from Qatar and forced Qatari citizens to leave their countries, splitting families across the region during the holy month of Ramadan.
According to reports, public approval for the new residency laws was immediate: On Twitter, Qatari citizens and expatriate residents largely expressed support, with many encouraging further expansion of residency and citizenship laws.
Qatar has a population of 2.4 million people, 90 percent of whom are foreigners, including many from south Asia working in construction.