Updated with comments from a Gulf expert
Qatar’s decision to waive visa requirements for visitors from 80 nationalities drew widespread praise yesterday, but also consternation from those whose countries didn’t make the cut.
People from some 47 countries, including Indonesia, Lebanon and South Africa, can now visit Qatar for free for up to a month.
Meanwhile, visitors from 33 other nations, including Turkey, Germany and France, can stay for up to 90 days.
But the list of permitted nationalities is mostly from Europe and the Americas.
It does include populous nations like China and Russia, but not most African, South Asian and Arab nations.
And among Qatar’s largest demographic groups, only India made the cut. Nepal, Bangladesh, the Philippines and Egypt did not.
On social media, the disparity drew criticism from people in many of the excluded nations:
It is unclear why certain nations were excluded. But diplomatically speaking, governments of two nations typically sign agreements with each other to establish visa-free travel.
Speaking to Doha News, Gulf expert Dr. Kristian Ulrichsen said “the choice of countries reflects a canny move to cement Qatar’s reputation as a more open and welcome destination than some of its neighbors among key international partners.”
“In addition, it is likely that the authorities have distinguished between welcoming visitors to Qatar as against potential residents, who likely will continue to apply for work visas in the usual manner.”
That said, Qatar does have a new online portal that makes it easier for people of all nationalities to apply for visas before visiting the country.
And it continues to offer free four-day transit visas for Qatar Airways passengers of any nationality who have stopovers in Doha.
It also plans to expand visa waivers in the future.
During yesterday’s announcement, Qatar officials said the new visa-free scheme makes it one of the most “open countries” in the region.
The move will certainly help tourism numbers that have been hit by the Gulf dispute. But some wonder if Qatar has gone too far to woo visitors.
Commenting on the news on Facebook, Ancy Thomas warned authorities to “look before you leap.”
“Brutal crimes in Qatar are very rare and this visa scheme sounds great until God forbid crime increases and anyone on a short valid visa can violate. Especially people who come with that intention. The price you pay Qatar to put on the best face in front of the world and especially the Neighbors. Desperate much? Look before you leap.”
Others worried that more people would be overstaying their visas to work illegally in Qatar.
However, most people have praised the government for throwing open Qatar’s doors to visitors.
And many residents now say they are excited to have their friends and family visit them in Doha.