On October 12, 2018, the first Qatar Visa Centre (QVC) was opened in Sri Lanka. Since then, several centres have opened around the world, servicing a large portion of migrant workers looking to relocate to Qatar. In this blog, I will explore the impact of such a significant change to the migration process as it relates to the immigration landscape in Qatar.

What are Qatar Visa Centres?

The Qatar Ministry of Interior (MOI) set up QVCs in select countries around the world, focusing on those countries that provide a large number of blue-collar migrant workers to Qatar such as India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Nepal and, recently, Philippines.

Nationals of the above-listed countries wishing to obtain a Qatar Work Residence Permit (RP) are now required to complete a list of procedures in their respective home countries prior to travelling to Qatar. This includes:

  • Medical testing (X-ray, blood test and vaccination)
  • Fingerprint scanning
  • Document legalisation (for select professions)
  • Electronic acknowledgment of employment terms

Why were QVCs introduced?

In conjunction with the Qatar Ministry of Administrative Development, Labour and Social Affairs (MADLSA), the authorities' aim for introducing QVCs focused on several key areas:

  • To simplify the recruitment and immigration process within Qatar for a large portion of migrant workers coming to the country by completing the bulk of the immigration process overseas. This means that migrant workers who complete the QVC process overseas will only be required to physically sign their employment contract once in Qatar – at which point the employer would proceed to issue the applicant's Work RP without any additional procedures.
  • To lessen the burden on the various government office authorities that were previously managing this process within Qatar, such as the medical commission and fingerprint office.
  • To enable employees to clearly understand the terms of their employment (in their native language) prior to travelling to Qatar through the electronic acknowledgment of employment terms.
  • To ensure, as far as possible, that employer recruitment costs are reduced by ensuring that all applicants pass the medical tests before travelling to Qatar. Historically, this process was undertaken in Qatar, and employers had to potentially bear additional costs for repatriating an applicant who did not pass the medical test.

What has the impact been on the business community in Qatar?

The positives

The QVCs have arguably brought a positive change to the immigration process for employees, employers and the government, particularly in terms of ensuring that a foreign national has completed and passed all related requirements before entering the country. Most immigration systems around the world operate some form of consular process before being granted leave to enter the destination country. As such, the QVC process is in line with this existing practice.

Where there are no complications, processing times have been generally very good, often beating the stated timelines for receiving the results, which are currently set at the 15th working day from the date of test completion.

The challenges

However, there have been a number of challenges with the new QVC process, which are not unexpected in view of the seismic shift in processing visa applications for Qatar.

  1. Country of submission

Regardless of the physical location of the applicant, he or she will need to travel to his or her home country in order to complete the QVC process. In practice, this means, for example, that an Indian national living in Germany would need to travel to India to complete the QVC process, even if that person has never lived in India. This can add costs and delays to the overall timeline to obtain the entry visa.

  1. Failing the medical tests

Applicants who fail the medical test are not readily able to appeal the results. Where the medical results have shown an area of concern, applicants are often called back to the QVC to repeat the respective test. However, if the results of the re-testing are still unclear, the visa application is likely to be automatically rejected.

Whilst this is not an uncommon practice in immigration systems around the world, there is always a chance that a medical result has been incorrectly assessed. For example, a scar in the lungs from a childhood infection does not necessarily mean that the applicant may have tuberculosis. In such circumstances, there is no formal process to appeal.

  1. No exemptions from the QVC process for now

There is no mechanism to exempt certain categories of applicants from having to complete the immigration process in their home country – the process applies to Free zones in Qatar as well. One of the aims of the QVC is to ensure that applicants are aware of their employment terms prior to travelling to Qatar. Although this is certainly beneficial for blue-collar workers, in most cases, white-collar applicants would already be aware of (and would have likely negotiated) these terms before the commencement of the immigration process.

  1. Newly established companies

Companies that are in the process of establishing a legal entity in Qatar do not have a readily identifiable option to sponsor their first signatory if that person is of a nationality that requires the QVC process. During the legal entity establishment process, companies are granted only a temporary immigration licence and this alone does not provide a mechanism to prepare a submission via the QVC.

Looking ahead

As outlined above, the establishment of the overseas QVCs has been a positive development and aligns Qatar with most other immigration systems around the world. The authorities have announced plans to further expand the QVC network to countries such as Ethiopia, Kenya, Morocco, and Tunisia.

With QVCs becoming more prevalent, it is likely that some of the issues faced by companies today will be appropriately looked into. In particular for companies that are planning to establish a legal entity in Qatar, it would be wise to carefully select and manage who the first employee and future signatory will be, and avoid appointing someone who must complete the QVC process, until that person is either exempt or until the authorities establish how one would work in such cases.

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.