Qatar’s population has risen from around 600,000 in 2000 to in excess of 2 million at the end of 2013. 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.(4) of 2009, Immigration Law, sets out regulations under which expatriates may enter, work and reside in and exit from Qatar. The Immigration Department of the Ministry of Interior and the Labour Department of the Ministry of 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 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.
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, eg 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 sponsors/employers to consider the activities that the 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:
Tourist, visit or on-arrival visas
Nationals of 33 countries can currently enter Qatar on an on-arrival visa issued for a fee at the Hamad International Airport. GCC nationals or holders of certain GCC residence permits can enter on this basis alone. 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 Qatar Embassy websites.
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. 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. Details in relation to such applications may be found on Qatar Embassy websites.
Work permits may only be applied for by an individual or entity registered with the Qatari immigration and 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 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 certificates 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 workers’ sponsors to carefully consider the job titles it initially applies for 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 tourist, visit or on-arrival 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 sponsors. 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, eg the Qatar Financial Centre (QFC). Part time workers can work, subject to the permission of their sponsor/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, either when he or she subsequently arrives in Qatar or while he or she is in Qatar, their sponsor must process their residency. Such progression should commence within 7 days. 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 submission to and approval by the Labour Department of a dual language English and Arabic local contract. Law No.(14) of 2004, Labour Law, sets out the matters to be referred to in the local contract, the form of which may be “tweaked”, but may not be amended materially, eg complex bonus calculations may not be approved by the Labour Department. For this reason many workers will hold more than one employment document 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 a local 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, eg payroll records, bank statements.
Dual residency, eg Qatar/United Arab Emirates (UAE), is permitted by discretion in Qatar. In the past dual residency was difficult to obtain however currently, provided the names of both entities, eg Qatar/UAE, are the same or similar, an application should be successful.
Where an individual holds a valid Qatari residence 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. Currently this is defined as 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 sponsors, subject to the discretion of the Immigration Department. In order to transfer sponsorship an individual must hold a residence 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 2 years, although appeals can be made to the Human Rights Department of the Ministry of Interior. Where individuals do not have a residence permit which has been valid for more than 12 months, provided they hold an NOC, they must leave Qatar and re-enter on either an on-arrival or a work permit in order for their new sponsors to be in a position to apply for a residence permit.
During the period of time in which an individual resides in Qatar he or she will have a Sponsor for Residence (Sponsor) who will be legally responsible for them, including obtaining and renewing residence 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. Penalties are levied for over-stays. The holders of residence 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.
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.