COVID-19 and Reopening Qatar: What You Should Know
Some parts of the world are cautiously beginning to reopen after COVID-19 spread across the globe. The situation is far from over, but nations cannot stay closed forever. Each country will adopt its own approach towards reopening, based on its own circumstances and considering the balance required to ensure the rate of COVID-19 is controlled insofar as possible, whilst simultaneously opening up the economy.
In early June, Qatar announced its strategy to reopen, envisioning a three-month phased approach. In a series of blogs, we will follow Qatar’s progress, offering insight into the issues involved in an effective reopening of borders, and will consider how the authorities confront the challenges and obstacles that will inevitably arise. Over the course of the series, we will provide an overview of the impact on businesses and employees, both inside and outside the country, from an immigration perspective.
A Swift Closure
From 17 March 2020, foreign nationals were no longer able to enter Qatar, as the number of COVID-19 cases increased across the globe. Family members on visit visas and short-term business visitors inside Qatar worried about their status, with some unable to return to their country of origin due to domestic border closures.
Qatar offered a series of concessions, alleviating concerns of non-residents who were at risk of overstaying. Visit Visas have been extended past their maximum allowable stay, typically by 30 days at a time, and it is possible to extend Business Visas beyond the usual 90 period by way of an online application. Fortunately, due to digitization efforts in Qatar, many in-country processes, including Residence Permits (RP) renewals and cancellations, remained possible using the existing online platforms. As such, businesses have been able to ensure they maintain a compliant workforce programme.
Opening Up, But Slowly
On 8 June 2020, the government announced that Qatar will reopen in four phases. The phases can be divided into two categories: Domestic Reopening and External Reopening.
|Phase||Date||Domestic Reopening||External Reopening|
|Phase 1||After 15 June 2020||Partial reopening of mosques, malls, parks and private clinics. Ministries continue to operate at 20% staff capacity.|
|Phase 2||After 1July 2020||Partial reopening of restaurants, museums, libraries, markets, beaches, parks and wholesale markets. Employees in the public and private sectors can work from the office at 50% capacity.|
|Phase 3||After 1 August 2020||Full reopening of shopping malls. Partial reopening of health clubs, gyms, swimming pools and salons.||Resumption of flights from low-risk countries. Only RP holders and non-resident priority travellers can return, subject to quarantine and permission to travel.|
|Phase 4||After 1 September 2020||Permission to host large gatherings such as business exhibitions. Full reopening of theatres, museums, libraries and cinemas.||Flights opened for non-residents to come to Qatar. It remains to be seen whether this will be open to all categories of visa holders and when exactly the quarantine requirements will cease to apply.|
*Information in table reflects the state of affairs as of 8 July 2020.Returning to QatarDiscover Qatar, a destination management division of Qatar Airways and partner of the National Tourism Council, is responsible for consolidating and disseminating information regarding the reopening of the Qatari borders. Some important information to note regarding those wishing to return to Qatar:
- RP holders can return from 1 August 2020, subject to a number of prerequisites, including:
- Only RP holders coming from low-risk (of COVID-19) countries can return. It remains to be seen how the government will categorise “low” and “high-risk” countries
- Returning residents must have obtained permission to re-enter the country
- Before they return, returning residents will need to purchase a “Welcome Home Package,” available from the Discover Qatar website, which is a 14-day quarantine period at an authorised location
- Individuals whose RPs have expired can return to Qatar after 1 August 2020 and renew their RPs. However, more details are required on what the re-entry process will look like. In addition, there is a question as to whether there will be a limited window for individuals to re-enter
The government is likely to release more details closer to the start of Phases 3 and 4. Discover Qatar has stated that RP holders should not book the Welcome Home Package until additional guidelines and eligibility information is available.
The Challenges of Reopening a Nation
Several aspects are evident from Qatar’s reopening plan:
Qatar’s tentative and judicious approach acknowledges that reopening is not a straightforward process and that milestones may have to change as the situation evolves. Evidently, there are a range of issues that need to be considered for an effective reopening. This includes quarantine measures, the use of technology, provision of health data and international relations, to name a few. How Qatar deals with these challenges will have an impact on how in-country businesses strategize mobilisation and re-mobilisation of employees.
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