Rumors are swirling following a local news report that Qatar has made plans to scrap its visa-on-arrival policy for dozens of nations.
According to the Gulf Times, the change, to take effect May 1, will require nationals of 33 European, Western and Asian countries to obtain visas before arriving in Qatar by contacting the Qatari embassies in their home countries.
The United States, British and French embassies in Doha have confirmed that their nations are among those affected by the change, but officials from other countries said they are still making inquiries.
The news was greeted with dismay by many Doha residents on Twitter.
Some bloggers here said they suspected that the change was spurred on by “reciprocity” – a tit for tat response to countries that require Qatari nationals to apply for visas before arrival.
Marjorie in Qatar said:
This is part of Qatar's new “reciprocity” kick. A few months ago they switched to a reciprocity system for driver's licenses: American licenses can't be automatically converted to Qatari ones, because the US doesn't automatically convert Qatari licenses.
Others mused that it was Qatar's way of securing its borders following the assassination of Hamas leader Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in January. He is suspected to have been killed by men holding falsified European and British passports. Dubai blames Israel's national intelligence agency Mossad for the slaying.
On Twitter, ibnkakfa said:
Linked to Mossad's Dubai murder?
On the popular online forum Qatar Living, where a post about the policy change generated more than 100 comments,Bleu said:
Seriously, this could be a temporary measure after what happened in Dubai… It could be anything.
i agree with bleu in this being a national security measure. Again, Qatar is frequently visited by Iranian, syrian & Hamas officials.
canarybird theorized a profit motive:
I don't think that this is an issue of how many expatriates live and work here, but it will certainly affect the whole economy and many expat wives who don't have visas make short term visa runs, and many on short business trips to. It will certainly make a whole in the money making business of visa runs.
Whatever the reason, most agree that the additional paperwork required to visit Qatar and the lack of Qatari embassies in many nations are likely to hurt the country's efforts to boost tourism.
QL commentator fubar said:
The Tourism Authority must be overjoyed by this news.
If you were a multinational company arranging a conference for 1000 high spending delegates from Western countries, like the recent CITES conference, or a similar UN conference, would you come to Qatar, where almost everyone will need to apply for a visa before travelling, or go to Dubai?
Others said they thought the move brought fairness to the system.
Qatari Nationals have to have a visa beforehand before visiting Britain. So if that is the case then what Qatar has done is fair. We Brits and other European and US nationals will just have to get used to it.
Fair deal! Getting a US/UK visa is a nightmare for many. Why should it be easy for the “33”? By any means it is still going to be a whole lot simpler than standard US/UK visa processes. Reciprocity is not just fair but the right thing to do.
Still, those living far from family and friends worry that the change will make it even more difficult to keep in touch.
I know half a dozen Brits who are working for international companies here in the Gulf (based in Qatar) with business visas. Their wives make visa runs to Bahrain monthly. Evidently no more. They will leave. Are these the kinds of ex-pats you want to see gone? The really talented ex-pats will be able to find a job anywhere! … Sometimes I feel like a lobster in a pot – when will the discomfort of decisions such as these outweigh my love for Qatar? I can tell you one thing – it certainly affects what I tell prospective professionals thinking of coming to Doha.
It turns out the change is actually less outrageous than I thought when I wrote the blog post quoted above. The Gulf Times had reported that tourists from those 33 countries would now have to apply at the Qatari embassy in their home country in advance of their trip. However, it appears that they can actually apply for visas instantly online (http://bit.ly/bTKfh5). So this is actually a much, much smaller inconvenience than those of us who were blogging/tweeting at the time feared.
Thanks for the update, Marjorie! That is indeed a significantly smaller hassle.
It is always interesting to see how countries balance opening up travel with security issues. It is good to see that the process is not as inconvenient as it could be.