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Friday, July 30, 2021

Controversial exceptional entry permit dropped for short-term travel

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After months of travel restrictions, the country is now opening up for returning travellers and visitors. 

Returning residents and visitors with work visas who leave the country for less than 6 months will not be required to present an Exceptional Entry Permit [EEP] upon landing, a senior official has announced.

The move will go into effect from 12 July and comes as part of the government’s plan to gradually lift Covid-19 restrictions in an effort to return to normality and reopen the country for tourism.

“If the residents meet the conditions for entering the country, that is, they have a valid residence permit and their stay out of Qatar is less than six months, they can enter without an exceptional permit,” Major Abdullah Al Jasmi, Head of the Administrative Affairs Section at the Airport Passports Department, said on Qatar TV.

The official also added that those who remained outside Qatar’s borders for more than six months or have an expired residence permit due to earlier restrictions can follow the previous procedures by applying through Hukoomi website or Metrash2 in order to return to the country.

The welcome news comes as a sigh of relief for thousands of expatriates in Qatar, as many have been waiting for more than a year to return to Qatar and reunite with their families or continue working.

Authorities in Qatar initially closed off borders for visitors as part of restrictions to curb the spread of Covid-19 in the Gulf state.

Read also: Qatar’s Covid-19 cases drop below 100

Since then, calls to re-open visas have continued, with thousands urging authorities to help them reunite with their loved ones. With daily Covid-19 cases now falling below 100, together with an increase in vaccination numbers, the country seems to be slowly easing visa restrictions once more.

In August 2020, Qatari authorities announced resident permit [RP] holders could apply for an ‘Exceptional Entry Permit’ [EEP] to return to the country.

Precautions such as home quarantine for those coming from designated low-risk countries, as well as hotel quarantine for those coming from other destinations were also put in place to help mitigate the risk of the spread of Covid-19.

The aim of the EEP system was to stagger the return of residents to the country to reduce the risk of a spike in coronavirus numbers. Despite the ‘easy’ registration process, many people reported that their applications were being rejected without giving the applicants a reason.

The system which was introduced to allow people a safe return home soon became a struggle for many left without approval.

In fact, in August it was estimated that more than 250,000 residents were abroad and waiting to come back to Qatar, though as some continue to receive approvals, this number is now likely to be much lower.

Months later in November 2020, circumstances took a turn for the better and authorities said EEP’s would be automatically approved for anyone leaving the country after the announcement. Though this helped those wishing to travel, it did little to quell the desperate calls of citizens stranded abroad.

Since then, travel to and from Qatar has been fairly straightforward, with unvaccinated residents needing to quarantine at a hotel when coming from most countries around the world, with the exception of a few countries on the Ministry of Public Health’s ‘green list.’

But for those who were stuck outside of Qatar before the EEP was abolished, the process is still ongoing.

Now, despite the new measures to allow people to return, many have been outside the country for over a year while waiting to return. However, as restrictions continue to ease up, many remain hopeful that the country will fully open soon.

New traffic light system

Last week, Qatar’s Ministry of Interior [MOI] announced that family and visitor visas will be reinstated from 12 July as per an updated travel policy which outlines details for quarantine regulations for travellers based on countries they are coming from, all of which fall under three categories: green, yellow and red.

Per the latest policies, fully vaccinated citizens and residents [QID holder] are exempted from quarantining, only if 14 days have passed since the completion of their required Covid-19 doses. These must be one of the vaccines approved by Qatar’s MOPH.

The same exemption applies to citizens and residents who have recovered from a previous Covid-19 infection in Qatar over the past 12 months, only if they were asymptomatic and their PCR result is negative.

Read also: Metrash2 opens up for family resident visa applications from India, Pakistan

Children aged 0-17 will follow the same policies as their parents, while unvaccinated minors aged 0-17 are subject to home quarantine for seven days, according to an updated amendment from the MOPH on Friday.

Both vaccinated and non-vaccinated travellers are required to present a negative PCR test that is valid within 72 hours prior to their arrival from approved health centres from the countries they are coming from.

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