Qatar announced on Wednesday that it would allow visa-free entry for citizens of 80 countries. This is the country’s bid to encourage air transport and tourism amid the ban imposed upon them by its neighbors in the Gulf.
According to Reuters, citizens from dozens of countries in Europe will now receive tourist visas on arrival. Other countries, including India, Lebanon, New Zealand, South Africa, and the United States, will also enjoy this benefit once they land in the oil-rich country.
Chief Tourism Development Officer at Qatar Tourism Authority Hassan al-Ibrahim told reporters in Doha that the visa exemption plan will make Qatar the most open country in the region. According to the Washington Post, the Qatari leadership is using the crisis to its advantage, showing a clear sign that Saudi Arabia’s influence over the six-country GCC is waning.
Aside from the visa-free entry imposed on 80 countries, Qatar is also changing its residency laws. Last week, the country approved a landmark legislation of granting permanent residency to some of the foreigners dominating its population. Bloomberg reports that this elevated status would be the first in the Gulf region, which has always been guarded and protective of its public services and property rights. Under this new law, permanent residents will be treated like Qatari nationals and would benefit from the state’s generous welfare system, including education and healthcare services.
While Saudi Arabia and its neighbors attempted to force Qatar back in line with the more conservative members of the GCC, this move by Qatar demonstrates that the blockade is having an opposite effect.
It can be recalled that on June 5, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Bahrain, and the United Arab Emirates imposed a boycott on Qatar, cutting off all transport links. The Gulf states accused the country of supporting terrorism and of having close ties with Iran. While its neighbors closed their doors and their borders, including air space, Qatar began to build diplomatic and trade ties beyond the Gulf region.
Food supplies were flown from Turkey and Iran, and new shipping routes via Oman were established. Despite all these efforts though, hotel occupancy rates are still at a low, as Saudis used to be a key source of tourism.
This new visa scheme is seen as one in a series of measures that Qatar is taking to have greater economic independence in the long run. Meanwhile, Kuwait leads in the efforts to resolve the ongoing rift.
On the other hand, Qatar is still hosting the next World Cup, and it has said that the Arab sanctions will not affect their preparations for the anticipated 2022 event.
[Featured Image by Kamran Jebreili/AP Images]