Qatar’s population has risen from around 600,000 in 2000 to in excess of 2.2 million at the end of 2016. It is among one of the most prosperous countries in the world and one of the fastest growing economies in the Middle East.
Law No.21 of 2015, Immigration Law, sets out the regulations under which expatriates may enter, work and reside in and exit from Qatar. The Immigration Law will repeal Law No.(4) of 2009 (Old Immigration Law) and the decisions and resolutions previously issued to implement it. However, until the publication of the executive regulations, the Old Immigration Law will remain in force to the extent that it does not contradict the provisions of the Immigration Law. The Immigration Department of the Ministry of Interior and the Labour Department of the Ministry of Administrative Development, Labour and Social Affairs 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 employed by either a Qatari national or an entity registered to undertake business in Qatar. This arrangement does not therefore 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.
We note that penalties can be imposed by the Ministry of Interior in relation to breaches of the Immigration Law. These penalties can be onerous, e.g. up to 3 years in prison and a fine of up to QAR 50,000. The penalties may be levied against any or all pertinent parties. It is therefore important for all expatriates and their employers to consider the activities that an expatriate is undertaking in Qatar and to independently confirm that the visa on which the expatriate is undertaking those activities is the correct visa and that the Immigration Law and its associated regulations are being complied with.
Right of entry
There are 3 main ways for an individual to enter Qatar:
On arrival, tourist or visit visas
Nationals of 33 countries can currently enter Qatar on a single entry on- arrival visa issued for a fee at the Hamad International Airport. GCC nationals or holders of certain GCC residence permits can also enter on an on arrival basis. The visas are issued for 30 days and can be extended for a further 30 days at the discretion of the immigration authorities. On the expiry of the initial or extended 30 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 33 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 the Qatar Embassy website.
Business visas must generally be applied for in advance of an individual entering Qatar. There is a 72 hour business visa which can be issued on arrival at Hamad International Airport subject to the provision of appropriate documentation and the payment of a fee; this is rarely used. A Qatari entity approved to issue business visas in Qatar, e.g. a wholly owned Qatari entity or 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 also be multi entry. Details in relation to such applications may be found on the Qatar Embassy website.
Work permits may only be applied for by an individual or entity registered with the Qatari immigration and employment authorities. . Employment and immigration are interlinked in Qatar. Once a Qatari entity has been issued with a computer/immigration card it may register with the Labour Department and submit block visa allocation applications to bring individuals into Qatar. 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 documents (duly notarised, legalised and authenticated for use in Qatar) including: bachelor's degree certificates, an academic transcript and a letter from the educational institution outlining the details of full time study must be submitted to the Immigration Department in order for each worker to be issued with his or her work permit. It is important for employers to carefully consider the job titles it initially applies for its employees given currently certain job titles are precluded from driving in Qatar and/or require education certificates which the individual being employed may not hold or have access to.
Right to work
Holders of on-arrival, tourist or visit visas may not work in Qatar. With some exceptions, 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 residence permits may work but ONLY for their employer. Contract working is not permitted. Individuals holding family residencies must apply for, and be issued with, work permits, often called labour cards, to work, subject to some exceptions, e.g. the Qatar Financial Centre (QFC). Part time workers can work, subject to the permission of their employer, for another Qatari national or an entity registered to undertake business in Qatar.
Right to reside
Once the work permit has been applied to the worker’s passport, when he or she subsequently arrives in Qatar, their employer must process their residency. Such progression should commence within one month. Where individuals are entering Qatar for a period of less than 30 days they may be exempt from processing their residency. This exemption should be read in the context of our comments in relation to visas generally and what expatriates can do in Qatar depending on the visas they may hold from time to time.
An integral part of the residence permit application process is the requirement for the parties to enter into a dual language e-government (e-govt) employment contract which sets out the basic statutory terms of employment in accordance with Law No.(14) of 2004 (Labour Law). There is currently no scope to amend the terms of the e-govt contract; as a result, the parties are required to set out any supplementary terms in a dual language appendix to the e-govt contract which is subject to the prior approval of the Labour Department.
Alongside this, many workers still hold more than one employment document (e.g. an international contract) pertaining to their employment in Qatar. It is important that all employment documents “mirror” one another to avoid ambiguity should a dispute arise. The Labour Law provides that where an e-govt contract has not been executed and approved by the Labour Department, a worker can evidence his or her employment and the terms thereof by whatever means, e.g. payroll records, bank statements.
Dual residency, e.g. Qatar/United Arab Emirates (UAE), is permitted by discretion in Qatar. In the past, dual residency was difficult to obtain however currently, an application should be successful.
Where an individual holds a valid Qatari residence permit he or she can apply for the residency of their spouses and dependent family members. The resident will have to demonstrate to the authorities that he or she is appropriately employed with sufficient funds to do so. Currently this is defined as an individual with a designation of "manager" or an individual holding a degree certificate and earning in excess of QAR 10,000 a month for at least 6 months as evidenced by Qatari bank statements.
Residency may be transferred between employers, subject to the discretion of the Immigration Department. Following the implementation of the Immigration Law in Qatar, it is now in principle easier for individuals to transfer their employment between different entities subject to certain time limits. Whilst the intention of the Immigration Law was to remove the requirement for an individual to hold a no objection certificate (NOC) in order to transfer employment, the labour and immigration authorities still may require a physical NOC as part of the application process where an employee has not completed a fixed term contract or if he/she has not completed 5 years of an indefinite contract. In order to transfer employment, an individual must hold a residence permit which has been valid for more than 12 months, a clean police report (issued by the country of origin and notarised, legalised and authenticated for use in Qatar) and currently a NOC (if appropriate).
Where individuals do not have a residence permit which has been valid for more than 12 months (provided they hold an NOC, if appropriate) they must leave Qatar and re-enter on either an on-arrival or a work permit in order for their new employer to be in a position to apply for a residence permit.
During the period of time in which an individual resides in Qatar, the employer will be legally responsible for them, including obtaining and renewing residence permits and associated registrations.
An employer will not be liable financially for any of the obligations of the individuals it employs unless it specifically agrees to guarantee such obligations.
Right of exit
Individuals entering Qatar other than on an on-arrival, tourist or visit visa MUST obtain an exit permit from their Qatari employer in order to leave. All exit permits are now multi-exit, free of charge and can be issued for between one and 365 days. Penalties are levied for over-stays.
Under the Immigration Law, a worker has the right to exit the country for any reason (e.g. annual leave, for an emergency, before the expiry of the employment contract or for any other reason) provided that the employer is notified pursuant to the terms of the employment contract. Where an employer or the authorities disapprove of the departure or exit, the worker can refer the matter to the expatriates' exit grievances committee which will decide on any appeal made to it within three days.
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 advice we have used our own translations and interpreted the same in the context of Qatari regulation and current market practice.