Some 26,000 visitors to Qatar were living in the country illegally last year after overstaying their visa terms, a senior Ministry of Interior (MOI) official has reportedly said.
To tackle the issue, officials are considering imposing a GCC-wide ban on the entry of people recorded as overstaying, said Brig. Nasser Issa Al-Sayed, director of MOI’s Search and Follow Up department, as quoted by the Qatar Tribune.
The 25,487 recorded as overstaying were on a variety of visa types, Al-Sayed added.
In some cases, employers had failed to renew working visas for their staff, and immigration officials will demand that this be done, he said.
Other cases were described as “runaways” – people who entered Qatar on work visas for fixed-term projects, but opted not to leave once their contracts were finished.
There were also people who came to Qatar on work visas but found there was no actual work to do, and so sought other employment illegally, the official said in an interview with Police Magazine.
To identify people without valid visas in Qatar, authorities periodically set up checkpoints around town, stopping vehicles and asking drivers and passengers to show their identity cards.
Those without valid IDs can be taken in for questioning.
Officials are also reviving the idea of a regional ban on those who overstay their visas, Al-Sayed reportedly said.
This follows an agreement at the Interior Ministers’ summit in Doha last last year to adopt a Gulf police force in which information is shared through a regional database.
Such a system has been under discussion for a number of years, as authorities across the region try to tackle the issue of undocumented residents.
Al-Sayed has previously said that a unified database would also assist authorities in tracking down and punishing rogue employers who illegally trade workers’ visas.
All foreigners in Qatar are required to have a visa to enter and stay in the country.
But numerous human rights’ reports have found that hundreds of people are brought here each year illegally, either to do a different job that what their visa states, or with no job at all.
They then become trapped in the country because they are either unable to afford to return home or don’t have access to their passports, which are illegally held by an employer.
The Ministry of Interior does punish firms caught breaking the law.
Last year, 5,440 companies and 3,460 individual sponsors were blacklisted for violating the provisions of Law No. 4 of 2009 (Regulation of Expatriates’ Entry, Departure, Residence and Sponsorship), for a variety of reasons.
Such companies are not allowed to hire new workers for a certain period of time as punishment, the Peninsula reported Al-Sayed as saying.
However, he added that the number of firms dealing in illegal visas had considerably dropped – from 184 companies caught and punished in 2013 to only five companies and seven individuals in 2015.
Meanwhile, Qatar authorities are also targeting residents who help domestic staff leave their employers without their sponsors’ agreement.
Some 122 women working in domestic service in the country last year were classified as “runaways,” Al-Sayed said.
Those providing shelter to such a person could face a fine of up to QR50,000 or a jail term of up to three years.
For repeat offenders, the maximum term is three years in jail and/or a fine of up to QR100,000.