Unannounced changes to sponsorship rules cause hardship for many Qatar families
Qatar appears to have quietly revised its sponsorship rules to make it more difficult for some women to sponsor their husbands, according to several sources interviewed by Doha News.
The rules are a marked change from 2010, when Qatar first announced that female expats could sponsor their husbands and children under a new law. Back then, the law included women working in the private sector who earned a monthly salary of at least QR7,000 ($1,920).
Now, it appears that only female government employees and those working in “semi-government” groups like Qatar Airways, Al Jazeera and Qatar Foundation who make a minimum of QR10,000 monthly can sponsor their husbands. That’s according to a representative at FutureGate, a company that offers immigration and relocation services to individuals and companies moving to Qatar.
“Women who work for private companies can now only sponsor their families for a six-month family visit visa,” Anas Outa Bashi, the company’s managing director, told Doha News.
“Women working for private companies may have been allowed to sponsor their families for a while after the new rules were introduced in 2010, but the latest update I have from the Head of Immigration is that now they cannot, without an exception being made,” he added.
The Qatar Financial Centre (QFC) has its own entirely separate rules, and Qatar’s labor law does not apply to them, he said.
The new rules have prompted an outpouring of frustration from families who say they were misled about the immigration process.
One female teacher from the UK told us:
“I earn way over the minimum 10,000 Riyals per month you need to sponsor your family here, and before I came here my school told me I could sponsor my husband. But every time I go to immigration they literally throw the papers back at me and say ‘men must work.’ I am from the UK & my husband is Dutch. He does the bi-monthly visa runs & immigration visits. My husband has now managed to find employment here and this will get him his RP – without that he would have been back to doing visa runs again.’
Bashi also points out that men who are sponsored by their wives are unable to work in Qatar until they transfer their sponsorship to their new employer. The same rules do not apply to wives who are sponsored by their husbands – these women can work without transferring their sponsorships, he said.
Another new immigration rule that has caused many headaches is the accumulation of six months’ worth of bank statements in Qatar before a man is allowed to sponsor his wife and children.
The rule, which only applies to employees of private companies, was introduced over a year ago to prevent contract fraud, according to Bashi. He explains that some companies were falsely inflating salaries on contracts to help their employees bring their families to Qatar, but in reality paying them less.
Employees who are affected by this rule face a difficult choice – either to leave their families in their home country for six months, or to bring them here and commit to multiple visa runs (return trips out of the country to validate a new visit visa) in the mean time.
Families cannot apply for a health card or get a Qatari driving licence until a residency permit is granted.
And some schools will not accept children who do not have their own RPs.
One British lawyer told us her children were removed from school when their RPs were delayed:
“Our children were allowed to start school and then had to stop,” she said. “I’ve been told that the SEC issued a new rule which requires that all children to have an RP before they are allowed to attend school. The schools already have umpteen copies of passports and visas and birth certificates so this just seems to be an administration point, unless anyone can tell me otherwise. Our children are 7 and 8 and have missed more than a month of school. They are missing out on their education but possibly more importantly they are missing out on time with friends.”
Bashi advises families to ask the Supreme Education Council for help if they encounter this problem.
Navigating the system
As far as women having trouble sponsoring their husbands, he said the rules are not so hard and fast. “Exceptions are always possible here. If a company really wants you, they are able to apply for an exception, and that may be granted.”
Bashi said that the six-month family RP rule is also subject to some flexibility:
“It’s mandatory, but if you can convince the Immigration Committee that you need the family residence visa more quickly, they may well approve it after only 3 months of bank statements. So, if your application is rejected, you should seek a meeting with the immigration committee, where you can put your case face to face. This usually makes all the difference.”
This was the experience of British expat Sue, who did two visa runs but was keen not to have to do another one, as she was about to give birth:
“With our third due around the middle of October, my hubby and his work went to immigration to give it a go. My husband had just 4.5 months of bank statements, and it was accepted.”
Have you been affected by these new rules?
Credit: Photo courtesy of NAAAS Logistics