Browsing 'visa' News

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

Omar Chatriwala/Doha News

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

Visitors to Qatar from India, China and Russia will be able to get tourist visas on arrival in the “coming weeks,” the head of Qatar Airways has announced.

A new visa system will be introduced which should make it easier and quicker for tourists from these countries to visit Qatar, as the country continues its push to attract more visitors.

The announcement follows a sluggish first six months of 2016 for tourism, with visitor numbers down 6 percent compared to the same period last year.

However, Qatar has ambitious plans to attract up to 7 million visitors to the country by 2030.

Launch of online visa system

Lesley Walker / Doha News

Launch of online visa system

Akbar Al Baker, CEO of Qatar’s national flag carrier, announced the new arrangements in Doha today while launching an overhaul of the tourist visa system for visitors who need to buy their visas in advance of arrival.

By early-to-mid next year, they will be able to apply online for their visa, track it and receive it within 48 hours, Al Baker said.

The populous countries of India, China and Russia would join the existing list of 38 countries whose nationals can buy their visit visa when they arrive at Hamad International Airport (HIA).

These include the USA, Canada, UK, New Zealand and Australia, as well as European and East Asian countries.

“The state of Qatar is finalizing agreements to allow citizens of Russia, China and India to arrive at the airport to get visa on arrival,” Al Baker said. He continued:

“The Ministry of Interior is putting the processes in place – it needs the IT infrastructure. They are aggressively working on it. It will come in weeks, not months.”

The MOI will give further details of the new visa rules “soon”, he added.

Online visas

Al Baker joined senior officials from Qatar Tourism Authority (QTA), the MOI’s immigration department and online visa processing organization VFS Global to announce changes to streamline and make “more transparent” the visa processes for visitors from other countries.

This comes amid a push to increase the number of people traveling to Qatar from 2.9 million last year to 4 million by 2020, Hassan Al Ibrahim, QTA’s chief tourism development officer, said at the media briefing.

The new online visa system should come into effect “between the first quarter and second quarter of 2017,” Al Ibrahim said.

The details of how it will work – which types of visas will be included, and the costs of them – are still being finalized and will be announced at a later date, Al Baker added.

The new system can be used by all passengers traveling to Qatar, regardless of the airline they use.

It is planned to use some Qatar Airways offices internationally as the pick-up venue for the visas.

“We are taking a major step forward in further increasing the visitor numbers in Qatar,” the Qatar Airways CEO added.

The new system will be be a “robust, online platform” and will “give visitors to this country much-required flexibility and ease to plan trips and holidays to Qatar,” Zubin Karkaria, CEO of VFS Global said.

QTA, Qatar Airways, VFS Global and the Ministry of Interior’s immigration department signed the initial agreement for the new service.

Airport expansion

Despite the recent tightening of economic conditions in Qatar, Al Baker maintained that plans to expand HIA would continue and would finish on time “by 2021, latest”.

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

Brian Candy/Flickr

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

The airport aims to increase its capacity to 60 million passengers, and the first phase of this expansion is already underway and should be finished by the end of this year, Al Baker said.

“We are releasing space and having to move parking away from the north end of the (airport) building to start construction,” he added.

Airbus delays

Qatar Airways is continuing to expand and currently has 300 aircraft on order, partly to replace old stock and partly to add to new routes.

However, its battles with Airbus over the late delivery of its A320neo planes continue. Al Baker confirmed today he has cancelled the orders for the first three of these aircraft, and more could follow.

Qatar Airways had 80 of the aircraft on order from Airbus.

“I will keep cancelling as long as they (Airbus) don’t meet their delivery dates,” he told Doha News.

He was previously described as being “very unhappy” over the problems with the jet.

However, he refused to confirm rumors he would be replacing these with the Boeing 737.

A Qatar Airways A320 Neo - still under test by Airbus

Quentin / Flickr

A Qatar Airways A320 Neo – still under test by Airbus

Asked how talks with Boeing were going on this issue, he replied: “I don’t know.”

The delayed orders of A320s and A350s are causing the company trouble and the airline chief admitted it is a “possibility” these issues could contribute to pushing it into the red by the end of this financial year.

“What’s happening with Airbus, with their deliveries, is seriously affecting our growth.  It is having a very, very huge financial impact… Our relationship (with Airbus) is very strained,” he said.

However, he remains “hopeful” that Airbus will make up the delays and delivery 12 aircraft to Qatar Airways by the end of this financial year, Al Baker added.

FC Barcelona renewal

Talking about Qatar Airway’s sponsorship of FC Barcelona, which was renewed for one year earlier this summer, Al Baker said that the airline remained in talks with the Spanish side to sign a longer, four-year contract starting next summer.

He continued:

“We didn’t have enough time to negotiate a proper agreement with FCB). We expanded it for one year and we are in negotiations with them to extend the term to an extra four years.

But it all depends on the kind of agreement FCB is willing to do with us.”

Thoughts?

Note: This article was updated to reflect that the number of countries whose nationals can get visa on arrival is now 38, not 33. It also shows QTA’s target of 4 million visitors by 2020, not 5 million in three years as was stated in the media briefing.

UK to start charging Qataris for visitor visas

The UK will start charging Qataris for online visas from today as the British government streamlines its electronic services for foreign visitors.

Electronic visa waivers, which were introduced for Qataris in 2014, were previously free, but will now cost £15 (QR79). The other major change is that Qataris will now upload a copy of their passport biographic data page in addition to typing in the details manually. The move is meant to reduce input errors. Qataris must apply for a visa at least 48 hours before departure.

Saudi visaA recently introduced visa-on-arrival procedure for Gulf expats is making it easier for some foreign residents to travel within the GCC, but still falls short of the unified tourist visa that’s been under discussion for years.

Earlier this year, GCC states brought in new measures allowing some expats who meet set criteria – including having a valid residence permit from a GCC country that shows they are one of 201 approved professions – can apply for an entry visa upon arriving at the airport or land border, as opposed to applying in advance of travel.

The aim is part of a wider initiative to make travel between the states easier for certain groups of people.

According to Brigadier Sheikh Nasser bin Abdullah al Thani, director of Qatar’s Abu Samra border post with Saudi Arabia, there have been “a number” of designated expat professionals taking advantage of the new rules to drive to Qatar, The Peninsula reports from an article for in-house police magazine Al Shurta.

The GCC-wide initiative covers not only visitors to Qatar, but also Qatar residents wishing to travel to other states in the region.

However, Saudi Arabia – which shares Qatar’s only land border – does not appear to have made any announcement regarding the loosening of visa-on-arrival formalities.

Requirements

According to Qatar government’s Hukoomi portal, the criteria for applying for an on-the-spot GCC Residents’ Visit Visa include:

  • A GCC Residents’ Permit (RP), valid for at least six months;
  • An original passport with at least six months’ validity;
  • A return ticket to the point of origin (if you are flying); and
  • The applicant must be currently employed in one of 201 authorized professions.

This list of approved professions is wide-ranging and covers many jobs in medicine and healthcare, animal welfare, law and academia, among other fields.

While some careers such as diplomat, financial expert and geologist are not surprising for the region, other permitted professions include journalist, earthquakes expert, horse-breeding technician and author. You can see the full list here.

Tourist visa calls

The new visa requirements have been brought in as the GCC has been under pressure for a number of years to introduce one GCC-wide tourist visa, similar to Europe’s Schengen system, which allows travelers to visit multiple member countries with a single visa.

While the latest system does not quite have the same openness as the European version, and still requires individual visas for each country visited, it is hoped it will start to ease travel for residents between the six GCC states.

Last year, amid rumors that a single visa system may come into effect during 2014, the GCC’s business body said this was unlikely, as there was no unified electronic database linking the systems for the member states.

Abdul Rahim Hassan Naqi, the Secretary-General of the Federation of GCC Chambers of Commerce and Industry, said:

“The major problem is the non-existence of an electronic link between the GCC member states.

“Whenever Gulf citizens or foreigners move between GCC countries, their data are recorded and updated only by the state they are leaving and the state they are entering. There is no full Gulf update. We do need to have an electronic link between the six countries of the Council in order to exchange data and therefore ease the implementation of the common Gulf tourism visa,” he added.

Gulf visitors

Qataris at Souq Waqif

Tourism within the Gulf is big business, and attracting Gulf nationals and residents to spend some of their leisure time in Qatar one of the key aspects of the nation’s tourism strategy, which was launched by Qatar Tourism Authority earlier this year.

As part of the new plan, QTA hopes to boost Qatar’s tourism figures five-fold, raising them to 7.4 million by 2030, as it widens its offering to GCC and international visitors alike.

Events such as the Souq Waqif festivals, Katara’s Dhow Boat Festival and Eid festivities regularly attract other guests from the Gulf to Qatar.

Just this weekend, the QTA said it would be stepping up its tourism promotional activities in the GCC by opening representative offices in Riyadh and Jeddah in the Kingdom, which will also serve other Gulf states.

Rashed al-Querese, QTA’s executive director of marketing and promotions, said GCC visitors to Qatar make up 40 percent of all arrivals, while half of these come from Saudi Arabia alone, according to local media reports.

Region-wide bans

Handcuffs / arrest

.v1ctor Casale / Flickr

Meanwhile, GCC states have started cooperating to crack down on illegal behavior by applying a law that bans a person deported from one country in the region from entering any other member state.

According to Manafez Dubai, the official newsletter of the General Directorate of Residency and Foreigners Affairs Dubai quoted in Dubai-based Gulf News, the new law is based on the GCC security pact which was drawn up in 1994 and then amended in 2012. It mostly applied to cases of drugs, money laundering and murder, the newspaper said.

Each case will be considered individually, except in drug-related incidences, when the region-wide ban will be automatic.

Thoughts?