UK: Qatar - A Right Of Entry? A Right To Work? A Right To Reside? A Right Of Exit?

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 Ministry of Interior and the Immigration and Labour Departments 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, an entity registered to undertake business in Qatar or a resident family member on which the individual is dependent. 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 3 main ways for an individual to enter Qatar:

Tourist, Visit or On-Arrival Visas

Nationals of thirty-three countries can currently enter Qatar on tourist visit, or on-arrival visas 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. The visas may also be applied for and obtained before entering Qatar. Details may be found on Qatar Embassy websites. Visas may be multi entry and may be issued for longer periods of time than those issued on-arrival, eg. the Qatari Embassy in London has been known to issue two year visas.

Business Visas

Business visas must be applied for in advance of an individual entering Qatar and may only be obtained with a letter of support from a local "sponsor", a Qatari national, an entity registered to undertake business in Qatar or a resident family member. Visas are normally issued for periods of one or three months, but can be extended by the immigration authorities by discretion.

Work Permit

Work permits may only be applied for by an individual or entity registered with the employment authorities. These applicants are known as the workers' sponsors. 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 applications. A block visa application should state the gender, nationality and job title of the workers a Qatari entity wants to employ. Once the block visa allocation has been approved by the Labour Department passport copies and appropriate education certificates should be submitted to the Immigration Department in order for each worker to be issued with his or her work permit; then the worker can proceed for residency.

Dual residency is permitted by discretion in Qatar, however it is difficult to obtain; individuals must hold senior positions in both sponsoring entities which should have the same name.

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?

Resident's Permit

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.

Family Residency

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 to do so.

Sponsorship Transfer

Residency may be transferred between sponsors, subject to the discretion of the immigration authority. 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. On some rare occasions the Minister of Employment may waive this requirement. 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.

Liability

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; in addition 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.

Immigration Submissions

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.

Note: Qatari Laws (save for those issued the Qatar Financial Centre to regulate internal business) are issued in Arabic and there are no official translations, therefore for the purposes of drafting this article we have used our own translations and interpreted the same in the context of Qatari regulation and current market practice.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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