DUBAI, Aug 3, (Agencies): Qatar plans to allow some expatriates to obtain permanent residency, state news agency QNA reported, in the first move of its kind among Gulf Arab states that rely heavily on foreign labour.
A draft law approved at a cabinet meeting will allow permanent residence to the children of Qatari women married to non-Qataris, as well as expatriates who provide outstanding services to Qatar, the Wednesday evening report said.
“According to the provisions of the bill, the minister of interior may grant a permanent residency ID to a non-Qatari if they meet the conditions specified in the law,” the cabinet statement carried by QNA said.
Gulf Arab countries have a high number of expatriate workers but do not allow naturalisation of foreigners except in rare cases and under strict conditions.
Qatar has a population of 2.7 million including some 300,000 citizens and has been reluctant to extend residency rights out of concern for the demographic balance.
Holders of the new permanent residency can for the first time access free state education and healthcare and have the right to own property and run some businesses without needing a Qatari partner, QNA said.
The world’s wealthiest country per capita, Qatar is under international pressure to improve conditions for hundreds of thousands of foreign workers building facilities for the 2022 World Cup. The government says it is implementing labour reforms.
Four Arab countries including Saudi Arabia have imposed sanctions on Qatar, accusing it of supporting terrorism, a charge it denies.
A work-sponsorship system widely enforced in the Gulf and known in Qatar as “kafala” requires foreign workers to get their employer’s consent to change jobs or leave the country.
QNA said a committee would be established at the interior ministry to review requests of granting permanent residency ID in line with the provisions of the law.
Those deemed eligible for the new status will be afforded the same access as Qataris to free public services, such as health and education.
They will also receive preferable treatment for jobs in the administration and armed services as well as being able to own their own properties and exercise some commercial activities without the need for a Qatari partner.
While stopping short of offering Qatari nationality the new measures constitute a first for the Gulf.
Naturalisation is extremely rare in the region and the status of the millions of foreigners working in the Gulf are strictly limited.
Oil-rich Qatar has a population of 2.4 million people, 90 percent of whom are foreigners, including many from Southeast Asia working in construction.
The move comes as Qatar languishes under a boycott imposed by Regional kingpin Saudi Arabia as well as Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt.
The four Arab states broke ties with Qatar on June 5, accusing the emirate of fostering Islamist extremist groups and of ties to Saudi arch-rival Iran. Qatar has denied the allegations.
The four Gulf nations have closed their land and sea borders to Qatar and imposed economic and air traffic restrictions.
Kuwait is leading mediation efforts in the crisis, the worst to grip the region since the 1981 creation of the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council, which includes Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain and Qatar.
The two other GCC members, Kuwait and Oman, have not joined the Qatar boycott.