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Qatar considers permanent resident visas for highly skilled foreign workers

Surprise move to scrap three-year visas for expatriates 'who meet predetermined criteria' is seen as bid to retain talent in advance of the 2022 football world cup finals in the country.

KUWAIT CITY // Qatar is considering permanent residency visas for highly skilled foreign workers in a bid to retain talent in the run up to the 2022 World Cup finals.

The suggestion is part of the Qatar National Development Strategy 2011-2016, a plan released on Monday that is a government attempt to boost the economy and human development in preparation for hosting the world's largest sports tournament.

"Qatar will consider a programme of permanent residency for expatriates who meet predetermined criteria," the report said. The government will also review the sponsorship system and employment law, and establish a tribunal for resolving labour disputes.

"A high-skilled and capable workforce is crucial for achieving a modern, diversified economy and for modernising public sector institutions," it said.

Foreigners now can work in Qatar only with local patronage and they have to renew their residency visas after a maximum of three years.

"It's unusual. I didn't see it coming," said David Roberts, the deputy director of the Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Strategic Studies' office in Qatar. "It's an appreciation of the reality that they need foreigners."

"Everyone would prefer permanent residency; it's a positive step forward," Mr Roberts said. Because expatriates have little chance of gaining Qatari nationality and all the state benefits that entails, some families live in the country for "several generations or more" under the temporary visa system.

Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al Thani, the crown prince, said at a ceremony to launch the strategy that it "will help us avoid wasting money" and "entrench a culture of professionalism", the local English-language daily, The Peninsula, reported. The strategy says preparations for the World Cup will gather pace throughout the duration of the plan. Qatar will launch of institutions to manage sports events and build infrastructure needed to properly host the football event.

The government plans to pump $65 billion (Dh239bn) into the nation's infrastructure over the next five years. The plan includes water and power projects and building a new port. The road network will be upgraded and the government is considering a rail and metro system.

Qatar has a population of 1.64 million, but the labour force is dominated by an army of foreign workers. In 2009, locals made up only 6 per cent of the workforce. The plan envisions increasing local participation in the economy through investment in education and training, incentives, and encouraging women to work.

jcalderwood@thenational.ae

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