Qatar, isolated by its neighbours in a diplomatic crisis, announced on Wednesday a visa-free entry programme for 80 nationalities to stimulate air transport and tourism.
“The visa exemption scheme will make Qatar the most open country in the region,” tourism department official Hassan al-Ibrahim told a press conference in Doha.
Interior ministry official Mohamed Rashed al-Mazroui said the nationals of 80 countries would only need to present a valid passport for entry to the energy-rich Gulf state which is to host football’s 2022 World Cup.
The 80 countries were not named and neither was the date from which the visa-free programme will take effect, but Qatari newspapers said it would apply mainly to Western nationals.
Nationals of 33 countries will be authorised to stay for 180 days and the other 47 for up to 30 days, periods which are renewable a single time.
Mazroui said the countries were selected on the basis of security and economic considerations, or for the buying-power of their nationals.
Qatar Airways chief Akbar al-Baker said his carrier, which this year plans to extend its network to 62 new destinations, would be a primary beneficiary.
Regional kingpin Saudi Arabia as well as Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt have since June 5 imposed a boycott on Qatar, accusing the emirate of fostering Islamist extremist groups and of close ties to Iran.
Doha has denied the allegations. The four Gulf nations have closed their land and sea borders to Qatar and imposed economic and air traffic restrictions.
On August 3, Qatar created a new permanent residents status for certain groups of foreigners, including those who have worked for the benefit of the emirate, a first for the Gulf.
Under the new rules, children with a Qatari mother and a foreign father can benefit from the new status, along with foreign residents who have “given service to Qatar” or have “skills that can benefit the country”.
Those deemed eligible for the new status will be afforded the same access as Qataris to free public services, such as health and education.
Qatar has a population of 2.4 million people, 90 percent of whom are foreigners, including many from south Asia working in construction.