Expatriates are to be offered permanent residency by the Qatari government in certain cases, in what is said to be a first among Gulf states, the state news agency reports.
Those expats deemed to have made “an outstanding contribution” will be offered full residency rights, as will also, for the first time, the children of Qatari women married to foreign nationals.
The draft law was approved at a cabinet meeting and authorised for reporting by the Qatar News Agency.
Isolation among Gulf states
The move comes against a backdrop of alienation and isolation for the Gulf state by its neighbours, especially Saudi Arabia, which has aggressively pushed for Qatar to accede to a list of demands that the Saudis claim would show that it is committed to the fight against terrorism.
The move also stands in marked contrast to developments in Saudi Arabia, which, as reported here this week, have included harsh new penalties for those violating foreign permit requirements, and an extension of the policy of ‘Saudisation’ that denies foreign nationals the right to work in specified industries.
As described in press reports carried by Gulf media, including Qatar’s own Al Jazeera news website, the new law would accord rights to expats broadly the same as those of Qatari nationals, such as access to the generous welfare system, including education and healthcare.
They will be given priority, after locals, for consideration for jobs in the public sector and will no longer be subject to “kafala”, a work-sponsorship system that is common throughout the region, which requires foreign workers to obtain their employers’ consent to change jobs or leave the country.
The new regime would even allow those granted the new status the right to own property and even run some commercial ventures without the hitherto strict requirement that such enterprise must be done in conjunction with a Qatari national as a partner.
A departure from ‘victim status’
The action “is symbolically significant, and will make some expatriates in Qatar feel like they now have a more substantial stake in the future of the country,” which could give them an incentive to stay and make additional investments in the country, Allison Wood, a Middle East and North Africa analyst with the Control Risks strategy firm in Dubai, told the Bloomberg newswire.
It also meshes with Qatar’s public relations strategy, Bloomberg points out, after Saudi Arabia and three allies severed their diplomatic and transport links with the country in June, “which has generally been to portray itself as a victim,” Wood added.
“The new law provides an opportunity to put Qatar in the headlines as a more open, forward-thinking state when compared to its neighbours, which do not have similar residency programmes.”
According to the Al Jazeera report, which was attributed to the Reuters news agency, the Qatar News Agency said a committee would be established at Qatar’s interior ministry to review requests for permanent residency, in line with the provisions of the law.
US proposal to slash legal immigration ‘by half’
Qatar’s announcement of its new flexibility on residency coincided this week with news in the US of a plan to cut legal immigration to that country “by half within a decade” by, in the words of The New York Times, “sharply curtailing the ability of American citizens and legal residents to bring family members into the country”.
The plan is being presented in the form of a bill proposed by two Republican Senators, and supported by President Trump. It would The Times notes, “enact the most far-reaching changes to the system of legal immigration in decades, and represents the president’s latest effort to stem the flow of newcomers to the United States”.