Amid the two-month boycott imposed on the Gulf state by its neighbors, Qatar announced that citizens of 80 countries including India can now enter Qatar visa-free. Nationals from dozens of countries in Europe and elsewhere including India, Lebanon, New Zealand, South Africa, and the United States only need present a valid passport to enter the gas-rich country which hosts the football World Cup in 2022.
“Citizens of these 80 countries wishing to visit Qatar will not need to apply or pay for a visa,” Qatari officials announced in a release said.
The US is not on that most-favored-nation list; instead, it's among the 47 other countries, such as Russia and China, whose citizens can stay in Qatar without a visa for up to 30 days. Nationals of 33 countries will be allowed to stay for 180 days and the other 47 for up to 30 days.
“The visa exemption scheme will make Qatar the most open country in the region,” Hassan al-Ibrahim, Chief Tourism Development officer at Qatar Tourism Authority told reporters at a press conference in Doha.
Oil giant Saudi Arabia along with Egypt, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates imposed a boycott on Qatar on 5 June and cut off all transport links with the country after accusing it of supporting terrorism and of close ties to Iran.
“Depending on the nationality of the visitor, the waiver will either be valid for 180 days, and allow the visitor to spend a total of 90 days in Qatar (multiple-entry); or it will be valid for 30 days and entitle the visitor to spend up to 30 days in Qatar (multiple-entry) with the possibility of applying for an extension of the waiver for an additional 30 days,” a release by the Qatari officials said.
Since the boycott began, Qatar has sought to build up its diplomatic and trade ties beyond the Gulf region. The visa scheme is just the latest in a series of measures aimed at preparing Qatar for greater economic independence in the long term. Efforts led by Kuwait to resolve the rift are ongoing.
Qatar has flown in food supplies from Turkey and Iran and chartered new shipping routes via Oman to bring in construction materials but hotel occupancy rates have fallen with Saudis, a key source of tourism, barred by their government from visiting the country.
Visitors from the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council usually account for almost half of all visitors to Qatar.
Air links suspended by the four Arab states represented around 25 percent of flights by state-owned Qatar Airways, one of the region's big three carriers.