The world’s largest events, such as the upcoming World Cup in Qatar, present exciting new opportunities for businesses. In order to maximise the commercial potential of these events, companies often need to quickly employ large numbers of staff for a short period of time. Companies need to consider the different options open to them to mobilise employees, either from outside Qatar or in country. In this article, we provide guidance on the available options and how businesses in Qatar can plan accordingly.
Mobilisation into Qatar
In order to be able to mobilise employees into Qatar to work, the employer must first register a legal presence in Qatar in accordance with applicable laws. It will be important for employers to consider what activities the employees will be doing and where they will be doing them and how long they will be in Qatar for as part of their mobilisation strategy. Each of the visa options set out below has expiry dates and penalties associated with overstay.
This is the main way in which all expatriate employees are employed in Qatar to work and reside. The key immigration stages are as follows:
On-line block visa allocation application to the Ministry of Labour (MOL), eg. gender, nationality and job title. The approval for this first step usually takes between five and ten working days, but can take less or more time;
On-line work permit (Work Permit) application to the Ministry of interior (MOI), eg. name, passport copy and education certificates as appropriate; again, approval should take between five and ten working days; and
Residence permit application to the MOL and MOI, eg. medical, blood group, x rays, fingerprints and MOL attestation of the E Government Employment Contract (EGov Contract); this last step can require some seven and ten working days to complete.
The employee should enter Qatar on his or her work permit and start his residence permit process within 30 days. For nationals of India, Indonesia, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Philippines and Tunisia, medicals, fingerprints and the execution of the EGov Contract must take place in one of the Qatar Visa Centre offices in the employee’s country of origin. The employee’s residence permit will be issued within two to three days of the employee entering Qatar.
Business visas are single entry/exit and are currently restricted to applicants in the government and semi-government sectors and/or oil and gas. Business visas permit the holder to represent his company or him or herself, but not to work, apart from in limited circumstances. Multi entry multi exit visas are similar to business visas.
Temporary Work Visas
These are special work visas, currently restricted to the government and semi-Government sectors. Unlike Work Permits, these cannot be converted to residence permits. On the basis that these visas will now be used to mobilise short term employees on World Cup projects, these visas are increasingly referred to as “FIFA Visas”. To apply for a FIFA Visa, the employer must have a contract associated with the World Cup.
Tourist and On Arrival Visas
Tourist Visas and On Arrival Visas are usually used to visit Qatar for leisure and/or visiting only. Whilst these visas are not appropriate to mobilise employees, as a matter of practice, employers do use them. If a commercial decision is taken to mobilise in this way, employers will need to consider each risk and then mitigate against it to the extent possible. For instance, individuals cannot always access Government offices and locations on a tourist visa or visa on arrival.
The COVID-19 pandemic has further affected mobilisation into Qatar. Travel restrictions require employers to plan an employee’s movements carefully to try and avoid “dead” time, when an employee is inside or outside Qatar when they are meant to be elsewhere either because they are waiting for a PCR test or are subject to quarantine.
Individuals coming into Qatar must be fully vaccinated with a vaccine approved by the Ministry of Public Health (MOPH). Approved vaccines include Pfizer/BioNTech, Moderna, AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson. Additional vaccines have been conditionally approved. Furthermore, a negative PCR test must have been completed within 72 hours of landing in Qatar; hotel quarantine may apply to individuals arriving from certain countries. Up-to-date travel data can be found on the MOPH website.
Mobilisation within Qatar
As an alternative to mobilising employees into Qatar employers can consider mobilising employees in country. This can be more cost and time efficient for the employer since, eg., flights into Qatar do not need to be organised or provided and the process can usually be concluded faster than mobilising from outside Qatar.
The immigration transfer process between two State employers is undertaken via the electronic system of the MOL. The MOL will grant its approval on the expiry of the employee’s notice period with the current employer. It then usually takes seven days for the new EGov Contract to be attested. Following the issuance of the new EGov Contract, the new residence permit will be granted to the employee. The actual timeline is subject, of course, to the parties actioning each step promptly, the current employer not objecting to the transfer, public holidays and there being no issues with the employee’s documentation; there are always exceptions. Transfers between an entity licensed in the state jurisdiction and a free zone entity might take longer and involve additional steps.
The six-month secondment or borrowing arrangements previously approved by the MOI are currently not available widely in the market.
For various reasons, including during the employment transfer process and/or where accelerated mobilisation is not possible, Qatar employers may decide to enter into a services agreement with another registered Qatar entity or services provider under the terms of which services are provided and paid for; the employees of the service provider provide the services. The service provider should be authorised to provide the services and will remain the employer of record for the employees through the services period.
Employers must consider the different options open to them to mobilise employees, either from outside Qatar or in country and then carefully plan accordingly. Risks should be mitigated, and visa expiry dates monitored to reduce penalties. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic travel restrictions and airline requirements should be considered for each flight into or out of Qatar to a different country.