Qatar’s population has more than doubled from around 600,000 in 2000 to in excess of 1,500,000 at the end of 2010. It is among one of the most prosperous countries in the world and one of the fastest growing economies in the Middle East. With the influx of people moving to Qatar it is important for workers and employers to understand the laws that apply to immigration.
Law No (4) of 2009 sets out regulations under which expatriates may enter, exit, work and reside in Qatar. The Immigration Department of the Ministry of Interior and the Labour Department of the Ministry of Labour are the main agencies of administration. The law defines an Expatriate as any individual entering Qatar who is not a Qatari national.
Unless an individual is a Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) national he or she must be sponsored by either a Qatari national or an entity registered to undertake business in Qatar. This arrangement does not lend itself to short term or casual employment arrangements. It is also important to note that there are laws and regulations in place to encourage the employment of nationals, known as Qatarisation.
Right of entry?
There are three main ways for an individual to enter Qatar:
Tourist, Visit or On-Arrival Visas
Nationals of thirty-three countries can currently enter Qatar on an on-arrival visa issued for a fee at the Qatar International Airport. Gulf Cooperation Council nationals or holders of certain Gulf Cooperation Council resident’s permits can enter on this basis alone. The visas are issued for thirty days and can be extended for a further thirty days at the discretion of the immigration authorities. On the expiry of the initial or extended thirty day period an individual must leave Qatar but can then re enter (same day if necessary) and be issued with a new visa. Nationals from outside the thirty-three countries must either arrange for a tourist visa through a Qatar based hotel where they must remain during their stay in Qatar, or a visit visa through the Qatari Embassy responsible for their relevant jurisdiction. Visit visas may be applied for and obtained before entering Qatar. Details may be found on Qatar Embassy websites.
Business visas must be applied for in advance of an individual entering Qatar. A Qatari entity approved to issue business visas in Qatar, eg. a wholly owned Qatari entity, a foreign entity working in association with the Qatar Government, etc. may issue a business visa.
Alternatively the Qatari Embassy responsible for the individual’s relevant jurisdiction may issue a business visa. A letter of support from a Qatari national or registered entity must be submitted in support of the application. Visas are normally issued for one month, but can be extended by the immigration authorities by discretion. Visas may be multi entry.
Work permits may only be applied for by an individual or entity registered with the Qatar employment authorities. These applicants are known as the workers’ sponsors (Sponsor).
Sponsorship and Immigration are interlinked in Qatar. Once a Qatari entity has been issued with an immigration card it may register with the Labour Department and submit block visa allocation applications to bring individuals into Qatar to work for it alone. Under Qatar law individuals must be sponsored and employed by the same individual or entity. Qatari nationals can also sponsor their workers. A block visa allocation application must state the gender, nationality and job title of the workers a Qatari entity or individual wishes to employ.
Once the block visa allocation has been approved by the Labour Department passport copies and appropriate education certificates must be submitted to the Immigration Department in order for each worker to be issued with his or her work permit. The employer must then apply for the worker’s residency.
Right to work?
Holders of tourist, visit or on-arrival visas may not work in Qatar. Business visas allow the holders to represent themselves or their companies, but not to work. ONLY a holder of a valid work permit may work lawfully in Qatar.
Holders of resident’s permits may work but ONLY for their sponsors. Contract working is not permitted. Individuals holding family residencies must apply for, and be issued with, work permits to work, subject to some exceptions, eg. the Qatar Financial Centre (QFC). Part time workers can work, subject to the permission of their sponsor/employer, for a Qatari national or an entity registered to undertake business in Qatar.
Right to reside?
Individuals who wish to work and reside in Qatar should apply for a resident’s permit. A work permit must have been granted to an individual before such an application can be made. It must be the worker’s sponsor who applies. It is usually issued for one year initially and then two years going forward.
Dual residency is permitted by discretion in Qatar; individuals must hold senior positions in both sponsoring entities which should have the same name.
Where an individual holds a valid Qatari resident’s permit he or she can apply to sponsor their spouses and dependent family members. The resident will have to demonstrate to the immigration authorities that he or she is appropriately employed with sufficient funds (currently 10,000 Qatari Riyals) to do so.
Residency may be transferred between sponsors, subject to the discretion of the immigration Department. In order to transfer sponsorship an individual must hold a resident’s permit which has been valid for more than 12 months, a sponsor’s letter of no objection (NOC) and a “clean” Police Report. Where no NOC is provided (there is no obligation to provide and no right of provision) an individual may not work in Qatar, ie. be sponsored and employed in Qatar, for a period of two years, although appeals can be made to the Human Rights Department of the Ministry of Interior. Where individuals do not have a resident’s permit which has been valid for more than 12 months, provided they hold an NOC, they must leave Qatar and re-enter on either a visit or business visa or a work permit in order for their new sponsors to be in a position to apply for a resident’s permit.
During the period of time in which the individuals resides in Qatar he or she will have a Sponsor for Residence (Sponsor) who will be legally responsible for them, including obtaining and renewing resident’s permits and associated registrations.
A Sponsor will not be liable financially for any of the obligations of the individuals it sponsors unless it specifically agrees to guarantee such obligations.
Right of exit?
Individuals entering Qatar other than on a tourist, visit or on-arrival visa MUST obtain an exit visa from their Qatari sponsor in order to leave. Business visa holders may require an exit visa for stays in excess of 14 days; penalties are levied for over-stays. Workers require an exit permit to leave Qatar and unless a re-entry visa is obtained the work permit will cancel automatically on exit. The holders of resident’s permits may be issued with multi-exit visas at the sponsor’s discretion.
In addition to the various processes and authorities referred to and mentioned, respectively, above, entrants to the Qatar job market should be aware that education certificates, employment arrangements, marriage and birth certificates, Police Reports and any additional documents which may be requested from time to time will need to be notarised, legalised and authenticated in the originating country for use in Qatar. Qatar is not a signatory to the Hague Convention and so this process can be lengthy and expensive, especially where there is no Qatari Embassy in the country of origin.