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Passport to more red tape

Passport to more red tape

Qatar plans to scrap its ‘visa-on-arrival’ scheme – and there are fears other GCC countries could impose similar restrictions on Western travelers.

April 13, 2010 5:21 by

From May 1, Qatar will scrap its visa-on-arrival scheme, under which citizens of certain countries are permitted to enter the country without arranging documents prior to traveling.

This means that tourists and business people from 33 countries – including the US and the UK – will be obliged to submit bank statements and other documents in order to obtain entry to Qatar. This also affects expats who have residency in other GCC countries.

The move hasn’t gone down too well. Zawya Dow Jones, for example, quotes bankers as saying the move could curtail Qatar’s efforts to attract foreign investment.

The change in policy is attributed to diplomatic and security concerns, especially following the murder of Hamas member Mahmoud Al Mabhouh in neighboring Dubai. The assassination was almost certainly the work of Israel’s spy agency Mossad, whose agents allegedly travelled to Dubai on false passports.

This has prompted speculation that Gulf countries could tighten restrictions on entry, and that Qatar will be the first of many GCC states to do so.

Shortly after the suspected Mossad hit, the UAE foreign ministry said via the official news agency WAM that “the UAE is deeply concerned by the fact that passports of close allies, whose nationals currently enjoy preferential visa waivers, were illegally used to commit this crime”.

This was interpreted by some as a sign that the UAE will tighten its entry policies for EU citizens. Like Qatar, the UAE currently grants tourist visas upon arrival to citizens of 33 countries, including the UK, Ireland, France, Germany and Australia – the five nations allegedly chosen by Mossad in its passport forgeries.

Even before the Mossad assassination, steps to tighten controls at UAE borders were already underway – albeit under legislation that does not affect citizens of the 33 countries mentioned above. New rules mean that some visitors to the UAE have to wait one month before reentering the Emirates, in a move that makes tourist daytrips to neighboring countries like Oman impossible.

A report in the Irish Times in February suggested that the UAE may indeed be considering a review of its entry rules. “In a telephone conversation with [Ireland’s] Minister for Foreign Affairs Micheál Martin last Friday, [UAE foreign minister] Sheikh Abdullah highlighted the possible consequences of the breach of passport security. He told Mr Martin there was increasing pressure within the UAE to impose tighter visa conditions on EU visitors,” said the newspaper.

But that was in February – and there has been no tightening of the law since then. But will there be? Saudi Arabia already has notoriously strict visa rules for expats; is it only a matter of time before the UAE, Bahrain, Oman and Kuwait follow Qatar and abolish ‘visas on arrival’?

POLL: Do you think Gulf countries will stop issuing ‘visas on arrival’ to visitors from Western countries?

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