Amid an ongoing debate about who has the right to call Qatar home, longtime resident Firas Zirie, a Jordanian expat who has spent 21 years of his life here, argues that a compromise is in order.
Qatar is booming. We all know as much. In the span of less than a decade, the average response to the mention of Qatar has gone from “Where’s that? Oh, it’s next to Saudi,” to “That’s where the World Cup is going to be, isn’t it?”
Thousands upon thousands of people are moving here to satisfy the country’s seemingly insatiable appetite for growth and development on all fronts. This migration is spurring difficult questions about Qatar’s immigration and labor laws, with many calling current policies inadequate and not written with the current circumstances in mind.
Consider the following anecdote – which applies to me as well as a large number of young expat professionals here:
I have spent nearly all of my life in Qatar. I have been through the school and university systems and eventually got a job here, and am trying to get my career on the right track.
If one day, I decide to change jobs and am unable to get a No Objection Certificate from my current employer, I would have to leave the country and could not return to work for two years.
This seems highly illogical, doesn’t it? And while unlikely, reality dictates that it could still happen.
That possible future makes it difficult for people like myself and others in the same boat from feeling stability and security in our lives. That little niggling doubt, that it could all come crashing down over a piece of paper, is always there. And it leads to social rifts and resentment.
The way Qatar’s current immigration laws are written, a person moves to Qatar, fulfills their job contract and leaves. That’s the protocol explicitly mentioned in the “Manual of Expatriate Employees in the State of Qatar,” issued by the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs.
But what about the expats who have been here for decades? Without a doubt, their presence provides stability to a country whose native population is less than 15 percent.
Imagine that every couple of years, every single expat left and had to be replaced. The loss of their expertise and need to continuously reorient new staff would have a crippling effect on everything.
That’s why, in the absence of naturalization laws (a thorny subject in and of itself), Qatar should consider establishing a permanent base of expats, at the very least simply to keep the economy functioning.
This would entail considering the concept of permanent resident status, an intermediate step between the pros and cons of the current immigration system.
Such a provision would provide flexibility for long-term residents, while reducing fears among Qataris about a dilution of their culture, a concern presented whenever naturalization is discussed. A permanent resident would, for example:
- Have spent an extended amount of time residing in Qatar (five to seven years);
- Be a skilled worker or an investor in a business or company;
- Hold a clean criminal record;
- Not be subject to “Kafala” rules such as an NOC or exit permit requirement;
- Would have priority in hiring procedures; and
- Would be provided more flexible property ownership and financial options.
As I mentioned before, most of the benefits of the current immigration laws that are touted by its proponents apply mainly to expats who are here for a brief time.
However, once a person has been in the country for several years, it is in the best interest of both parties to retain them. This is where permanent resident status comes into play.
A permanent resident would be afforded a more secure immigration status, while providing Qatar with a solid base of skilled residents who have a vested interest in the further development of their current home, to bolster the local population.
I strongly believe that developing frameworks for a permanent resident immigration status would be achievable and highly beneficial to both sides of the immigration debate.
In the medium to long term, I believe that nationalization must be considered as an option. In the mean time, such a system would help bridge the divides that exist in our society and keep Qatar moving on the path of rapid and sustainable growth.