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| Vladimir Jankovic

Qatar Blockade and its Impact on Immigration in GCC

More than four months have passed since Saudi Arabia, Egypt, United Arab Emirates and Bahrain severed diplomatic ties with Qatar and imposed a blockade. 

GCC: Gulf Cooperation Council: Qatar, UAE, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Oman and Kuwait

VOA: Visa on Arrival. Visa that can be obtained at the airport upon arrival to Qatar or UAE based on the applicant’s nationality or GCC residency.

RP: Residence Permit allowing the holder to reside in the country for more than 12 months.

More than four months have passed since Saudi Arabia, Egypt, United Arab Emirates and Bahrain severed diplomatic ties with Qatar and imposed a blockade. The resulting situation has had a profound impact on various aspects of life in Qatar and within the GCC and Arab world. In this blog, I will examine the consequences of the blockade and the severing of diplomatic ties in various areas.

Impact on Saudi, UAE, and Bahraini nationals

When diplomatic ties were cut on June 7th, Saudi, UAE, and Bahraini nationals residing in Qatar were given a one to two-week grace period by their home countries to leave Qatar. This forced many employees of Qatari companies, students, family members, and relatives to leave Qatar with short notice. As a result, businesses in Qatar that employed Saudi, UAE, and Bahraini nationals, who often held high-level positions with signatory powers, were left scrambling to find alternatives to ensure business continuity. Further, Saudi, UAE, and Bahraini nationals studying at universities in Qatar had to abruptly cease their studies and were left with no clear path towards completing them on time and per their academic schedules. Additionally, while exceptions were ultimately made on humanitarian grounds, Saudi, UAE and Bahraini nationals married to Qataris and residing in Qatar were initially forced to exit Qatar.

Impact on Qatari nationals

Qatari nationals who were living in one of the blockading countries faced challenges similar to their Saudi, Emirati and Bahraini counterparts living in Qatar, as Saudi, the UAE and Bahrain gave Qatari nationals in their countries two weeks to leave the country. Qatari nationals are currently forbidden to visit, transit through, or reside in Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt and Bahrain. This obviously has a tremendous impact on Qatari nationals who had been long-term residents or worked in one of the countries. Although a Qatari national holding a second nationality may be eligible to enter Saudi Arabia, the UAE, or Bahrain on the second passport, it is not clear if the blockading countries would allow entry.

Most GCC countries, including Qatar, suspend residence permits if the holder spends more than six consecutive months outside of the country of residence. If the blockade continues for more than six months, many GCC nationals who hold a residence permit in another GCC state will find that their permits either have expired or have been cancelled due to spending more than six months out of the country.

Impact on GCC Residence Permit Holders

When diplomatic ties were severed, the blockading countries immediately banned all direct flights between their countries and Qatar. Pre-blockade, multiple flights between Qatar and the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and Egypt departed and arrived every hour daily. Expats living in Dubai frequently took advantage of this convenience to conduct business activities in Qatar during the work week, returning to their families for the weekend. This was also true for expats living in Doha who made weekly trips to Dubai. The blockade has turned this trip from a simple, direct, 45-minute flight to a journey requiring half a day or more, as travellers must now transit through one of the neutral Gulf States such as Oman or Kuwait.

Furthermore, with the severing of diplomatic ties, the blockading countries currently do not recognize Qatar RPs. Consequently, expats who were formerly eligible for a UAE visa-on-arrival (VOA) at the Dubai airport or an online eVisa based on a Qatar RP lost these visa options. Travellers not eligible for a VOA based on nationality still may apply for a business visa prior to the intended date of travel, a process that can take several days or weeks, depending on the circumstances.

Additionally, multinational companies in the region often have a Dubai-based regional director who also holds a Qatar RP to serve as a signatory for their Qatar entities. Due to the increased travel complications, such companies have had to scramble to add additional signatories or representatives to their legal entities in Qatar to ensure business continuity.

Saudi Business Visas

Before the blockade, many Qatar work RP holders applied at the Saudi consulate in Qatar for Saudi Arabia (“KSA”) business visas to conduct short-term business in Saudi Arabia. Because Saudi Arabia closed its consulate in Qatar when it severed diplomatic ties, applications for KSA business visas presently are impossible to obtain in Qatar. Qatar-based business travellers now must travel to their countries of citizenship to apply for a KSA business visa. For example, a French national holding a Qatar work RP now must apply for a KSA visa in France.

Document Attestation and Courier Service Delays

Since Qatar’s consulates have been closed in the countries that severed diplomatic ties, the attestation of documents issued in one of the blockading countries for use in Qatar has become far more complicated. Attestation now requires additional steps that extend processing times and increase costs. The same is true for documents issued in Qatar that require attestation for use in one of the blockading countries.

Due to the cancellation of all flights and courier services between the blockading countries and Qatar, all documents must be sent via third countries. This has increased the cost and time needed to move documents from one country to another. What formerly took two business days can now take five to ten business days.

Qatar Extends Visa on Arrival List and Includes Lebanon

Only a few weeks after the start of the blockade, Qatar Immigration announced the extension of eligibility for VOA in Qatar to 80 countries. More information on this topic can be found in our newsflash. However, an item of particular interest is the addition of Lebanon to the list of eligible countries. Since late 2013, Lebanese nationals have found it difficult to obtain Qatar work, business, and family visas. The addition of Lebanon to this list could be a sign of better days for Lebanese nationals wanting to reside in Qatar. While Fragomen is monitoring the situation closely, to date no dramatic improvement has been noted.

Suspension of Egyptian Visa Applications in Qatar

Since the start of the blockade, Qatar has not implemented any official counter measures on nationals of the blockading countries. While the three blockading GCC countries ordered their citizens to leave Qatar, Qatar has taken no action against nationals of those countries. Further, Egypt did not instruct their citizens to exit Qatar, and Qatar has not taken action against the approximately 300,000 Egyptian nationals currently residing in Qatar – over 11% of Qatar’s total population of 2.6 million.

For decades, Egypt has provided Qatar with both a high- and low-skilled workforce, in roles ranging from laborers to positions in government ministries and as teachers and doctors. The number of Egyptians working in Qatar has increased substantially in recent years as restrictions were imposed, due to political or security reasons, on nationals of countries such as Syria, Libya, Iraq, Yemen, Lebanon, Palestine and Jordan.

Although no official restrictions against Egyptian nationals have been announced by the Qatar government, in practice, the Ministry of Interior Immigration Department stopped issuing all new work, business and family visas for Egyptian nationals a few weeks into the blockade. In addition, Egyptian nationals holding GCC residence permits who were previously able to obtain Qatar VOAs based on GCC residency have found it more difficult to do so. In fact, very few Egyptian nationals currently are being granted entry to Qatar based on a VOA. Egyptian nationals frequently are being denied boarding of flights to Qatar or are being turned away upon arrival at the airport in Qatar.

Impact of immigration restrictions on business in Qatar

Businesses operating in Qatar are now finding it increasingly difficult to source talent and deploy resources to Qatar to support their projects and meet client requirements, both short- and long-term.

Short-term business travel has turned into a logistical headache, as companies now must plan trips well in advance and obtain visas pre-travel. Qatar’s recently-imposed restrictions on Egyptian nationals leave very little room for manoeuvre for businesses. Since nationals of Egypt, Syria, Palestine, Iraq and Jordan find it difficult or impossible to obtain work or business visas or visas on arrival, and Lebanese nationals have difficulty obtaining work and business visas, there now remains only a handful of Arab nationalities that have a realistic chance of obtaining approval for work or business visas or VOA.

Since many businesses in Qatar have lucrative government contracts where there is an expectation that the work performed should be done by an Arabic speaker, long-term hiring needs are proving harder to address. Historically, such work has been and is performed by nationals of countries that are now “restricted” in Qatar. Recruiting the best talent possible for the job can no longer be the top priority; perhaps at the expense of expertise, nationality now must be a greater consideration for recruiters and HR.

The market’s and the government’s responses to the current situation are still evolving. Given that Egyptian nationals currently are no longer able to obtain Qatar visas in Qatar, a relaxation of restrictions on other Arab nationalities, such as Lebanese and Jordanians, could become considerations.

Without a doubt, there is much work still to be done in developing the country’s infrastructure. To this point, Qatar has proven to be able to cope with many challenges resulting from the blockade, and the government’s understanding of immigration and its importance to the development of the state is now more important than ever before.

Learn more about the office in Qatar.