Qatar, the wealthy, leaf-shaped Gulf country that has been the subject of a boycott by a number of its powerful neighbours, including Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Bahrain and the UAE since 5 June, has announced that it will allow visa-free entry for citizens of 80 countries, the Reuters news agency has reported.
The new “visa exemption scheme”, as Hassan al-Ibrahim, chief tourism development officer at the Qatar Tourism Authority was quoted by Reuters as referring to the scheme last week, “will make Qatar the most open country in the region”.
Since the boycott began, Qatar has sought to build up its diplomatic and trade ties beyond the Gulf region, in part by being more accommodating than it had been previously.
As reported, the boycott on Qatar was imposed in June by its neighbours because of what they alleged has been its role in fuelling extremism and terrorism (which it has denied).
After Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain announced that they were cutting diplomatic and transport links to Qatar, Yemen, Libya’s eastern-based government, and the Maldives said they too would be cutting their ties with Qatar, according to press reports.
According to Reuters, Qatar’s intention in launching the new visa exemption scheme is to encourage air transport and tourism, at a time when the embargo is threatening to reduce the numbers of both those coming to Qatar as well as those passing through it.
Under the new scheme, nationals from dozens of countries in Europe and elsewhere, including India, Lebanon, New Zealand, South Africa and the United States will need only to present a valid passport to enter the country, Reuters noted.
Nationals of 33 countries will be allowed to stay for 180 days, and the other 47 for up to 30 days, according to Reuters.
The news that Qatar is to relax its visa requirements for foreigners came less than two weeks after it announced that expatriates living in the country were to be offered permanent residency by the Qatari government in certain cases. The new residency scheme was said by the Qatar state news agency to be a first among the Gulf states, a number of which have recently been moving in the opposite direction, by making it more difficult for foreigners to come to their shores and work, and/or live.
In Qatar, however, under this new residency regime, those expats currently living there, who had been deemed to have made “an outstanding contribution”, would be offered full residency rights, as would also, for the first time, the children of Qatari women married to foreign nationals, the Qatar News Agency said.
Foreign workers from countries including India and Nepal currently account for around 90%of Qatar’s population of 2.7 million, Reuters noted.