Re-entering Qatar: Implications for Employers and Travelers
This is the second entry in a series of blog posts on the reopening of Qatar after the COVID-19 lockdown. To read the previous blog, please visit “COVID-19 and Reopening Qatar: What You Should Know.”
On 1 August 2020, Qatar opened its borders for Qatar Resident Permit (RP) holders to re-enter the country. This marked the third phase of Qatar’s reopening plan announced on 8 June 2020.
Qatar is exercising caution, mindful that an unrestrained reopening could potentially stimulate the second wave of infections. In managing the flow of travelers back into the country, Qatar adopted a phased approach. In this blog, we will discuss this approach and consider the implications for employers and travelers.
Immigration Activity in Qatar
Especially since Eid al-Adha, a sense of a “new normal” has descended onto Qatar. The roads are busier, and the streets and malls are filling up. Yet the new normal has also ushered in significant changes to the country. Most people wear masks, social distancing is promoted, temperatures are checked before entering most buildings, and the contact tracing app “Ehteraz” is mandatory for all.
Authorities are gradually resuming operations, with many in-person applications now permitted. The full gamut of services is still, however, not being offered: entry visas such as Work, Family, and Business visas are not being issued. Nonresidents still cannot enter the country. For residents looking to return, the process is not a simple one.
Progressive Approach to Entry
There are five elements to Qatar’s approach to allowing RP holders back into the country, which we will consider in turn:
- Applying for the Entry Permit
Before an RP holder can travel to Qatar, his or her sponsor must apply on the Qatar Portal for an Entry Permit (EP). This applies to employees sponsored by companies and family members sponsored by a spouse or parent. Previously, it was understood that family members would automatically obtain EPs once the main applicant had the EP approved. It is no longer the case that family members will need to obtain permission to enter separately. Without the EP, the RP holder will not be allowed to re-enter Qatar. The EP is only valid for 30 days, and if the RP holder does not enter Qatar within that period, the sponsor will need to apply for a new EP.
As part of the application for an EP, the sponsor is required to answer several questions relating to the place of departure, the number of days the RP holder has spent in the respective country, along health details. Individuals over 55 or who suffer from specified conditions and who are coming from a country that is not classified as “low risk” may be able to avoid the mandatory one-week quarantine at a hotel.
Processing times for an EP vary; some have been issued as quickly as two working days, while others have been pending since 1 August.
- Country of origin “risk” determination
The Ministry of Public Health (MOPH) is regularly updating a list of countries considered low risk for the spread of COVID-19.
The presence (or absence) of the country on the list will determine the quarantine requirements in Qatar for the returning RP holder. If the RP holder is entering from a country that is on the list, and he or she has spent more than one week prior to departure in the respective country, the individual will be able to Home Quarantine for a period of seven days.
In general, if RP holders are coming from countries, not on the list, they need Hotel Quarantine in an approved hotel for seven days followed by Home Quarantine for an additional seven days. However, as noted above, Hotel Quarantine may be waived depending on how the authorities assess responses made in the submission relating to age and health details.
- Taking a COVID-19 Test
Travelers coming into Qatar will be required to undertake a COVID-19 test at the airport on arrival. Currently, for individuals arriving from a select few countries, the test is waived, provided the RP holder had a COVID-19 test at a MOPH-approved hospital within 72 hours of his or her flight.
In addition, for certain countries, Qatar Airways requires travelers to take a COVID-19 test at a Qatar Airways approved health center 48 hours before the flight. Currently, these countries are Bangladesh, Brazil, Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, the Philippines, and Sri Lanka, and it is expected that more countries will be added to the list. Failure to take the test will result in the individual not being allowed to board the flight to Qatar.
- Quarantine Requirements
The approved EP will state whether the applicant will have to Home or Hotel Quarantine. In both cases, the RP holder will still have to sign a pledge stating he or she will abide by the conditions required for quarantining at home.
As mentioned above, if the EP confirms Home Quarantine is allowed, the RP holder will be permitted to quarantine at home for seven days. If the EP requires Hotel Quarantine, the RP holder will need to book a Welcome Home Package, which must be booked via the Discover Qatar website, prior to travel. When in Qatar, the RP holder must quarantine for six days. This is followed by a mandatory COVID-19 test. If negative, a further seven days Home Quarantine must be completed.
In both cases, at the end of the Home Quarantine, the RP holder will take a COVID-19 test. If negative, that person is free to leave quarantine.
- Contact Tracing
Prior to arrival or upon arrival, RP holders are expected to download the Etheraz app onto their phone. Many public buildings such as government agencies, malls, restaurants, and hotels check the app before allowing entry into their respective sites.
The app displays four modes, which are color-coded: healthy (green), quarantined (yellow), suspected of being infected with COVID (gray), and confirmed infected (red). After it is downloaded, and following arrival in Qatar, the app will display yellow. After the quarantine period, and following a second negative COVID-19 test, the app will turn green.
Some Issues Faced by Sponsors and Travelers
Many RP holders have now re-entered Qatar. However, not every sponsor has managed to obtain approval for the EP. Indeed, some sponsors have faced issues opening an account on the Qatar Portal. Employers have had their applications rejected due to infractions in the Wage Protection System. It was in anticipation of this exact issue that we have consistently highlighted the importance of ensuring corporate compliance during this COVID-19 period. Bearing in mind that a new application cannot be made 30 days from the date of rejection, it is critical to ensure all criteria have been met before making a submission for an EP.
Employers and applicants should expect delays and further changes to the entry approval and issuance process, with the expectation that the approval process will become more streamlined and predictable as the overall COVID-19 situation, hopefully, improves in Qatar and around the world.
The Road Ahead
Categorizing countries into low and high risk is difficult and can be subjective; even so, Qatar still requires testing twice within a relatively short period of time. That said, a big positive has clearly been that entry for RP holders has not only been restricted to those coming from “low risk” countries.
The requirement to apply for permission to enter the country demonstrates Qatar facilitating a steady stream of entrants and avoiding a large rush which, practically speaking, could also lead to hotel capacity issues. At the same time, as entrants only have 30 days to return, this perhaps indicates Qatar is perhaps looking to open the borders to non-residents.
On 26 August, Qatar announced its plans for Phase 4 starting on 1 September. Phase 4 will be divided into two stages: the first stage focuses on further easing of public restrictions and opening of public services. The authorities will continue to update the list of low-risk countries every two weeks. The plan for the second stage, earmarked for the third week of September, is dependent on how successful the easing of restrictions is in avoiding an increase in COVID cases.
The next blog in the series, to be released at the end of September, will assess progress and look at further reopening of the country.
For assistance on the mobilization of your employees back into Qatar, please contact Azeem Mohiuddin at Amohiuddin@fragomen.com.
This blog was released on 31 August, and due to the circumstances, there are frequent changes. To stay current with all the latest updates on global immigration, please visit our COVID-19 microsite and subscribe to our alerts. You may also follow our LinkedIn account.