"Qatar is now visa-free for over 80 countries around the world," says Group Chief Executive Officer Akbar Al Baker of state-owned Qatar Airways, as the small nation announced that it will issue waivers rather than visas — and won't be charging for the service.
The change, which is effective immediately, means that people from the U.S. and other countries are now able to enter Qatar "with no paperwork, no payment and no visas," Baker said. Visitors from 33 countries would be able to stay for up to 90 days.
The U.S. 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.
Rather than applying for a visa beforehand, citizens of those 80 nations can obtain a visa waiver after arriving in Qatar.
Officials from Qatar's tourism and interior ministries who announced the loosening of immigration rules on Wednesday said the move makes Qatar "the most open country in the region."
Saying that the change reflects Qatar's outlook at "a historic time," Baker added, "While some countries in the region have taken to closing their skies and their borders, Qatar has instead opened its borders to more freely welcoming visitors from all corners of the world."
Immigration and international travel have been hot topics both in the U.S. — where President Trump has made tighter border controls a priority — and in the Middle East, where Qatar has been isolated by its neighbors since June.
Qatar's visa change could help the Persian Gulf country reach its target of hosting 7 million tourists annually by 2030. It could also provide some relief from the blockade led by Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates — and which Baker on Wednesday called an "illegal violation of international law."
As part of the blockade, Qatar Airways was barred from entering the airspace of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates — although there are now signs that at least some of those restrictions might now be relaxed.
Despite the diplomatic standoff, Qatar noted that citizens of the Gulf Cooperation Council countries — Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates — and of Turkey don't need visas to enter Qatar.
Saudi Arabia and its fellow Sunni nations have accused Qatar of supporting terrorism. The peninsula nation has denied those accusations.
The U.S. response, particularly early in the dispute, has been criticized as being mixed. Even as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson sought to ease the tension and called for an end to the blockade, President Trump said that he had consulted with Saudi Arabia before calling out Qatar for what he called its "very high level" of terror financing.
Here are the 33 nations whose citizens can stay in Qatar for up to 90 days without a visa:
- Czech Republic
And here are the 47 countries whose citizens can spend up to 30 days in Qatar without a visa:
- Costa Rica
- Hong Kong
- New Zealand
- San Marino
- South Africa
- South Korea
- United Kingdom
- United States
- Vatican City