Expatriates aren’t generally allowed to become part of the permanent population. Foreign workers are dealt with in a fair but controlled way, paid and treated well, and at the end of their time in the region, thanked and rewarded for their efforts. On the other hand, the government is conscious of the need to provide decent jobs with career paths for their own young people, who are increasingly educated and aware of the attractions of the outside world – many attend universities in the USA or UK. Having made major investments in education and social welfare, they hope that eventually Qatar will become almost self-sufficient in terms of labour.
A majority of outside observers, however, believe that expatriates will have a substantial role to play for many years to come, and it seems likely that expatriates will continue to be important for the next two or three decades, although there will undoubtedly be changes in the number of people employed and the type of skills required. For example, the vast construction projects currently found throughout the region (e.g. road systems, airports, ports and trading zones) will become less numerous, with a resulting decline in the number of manual workers required. Commercial development, however, will lead to further building programmes as Qatar’s economy continues to grow. Managerial, professional and particularly technological experience will still be in strong demand for many years to come. But there will be none of the mass immigration and resulting demands for citizenship that have been experienced in western societies, or the current trend of economic refugees looking for a better way of life. Qatar will simply not allow it. Foreigners cannot become citizens or own land and property, although there appears to be some lessening of the restrictions, certainly as regards owning one’s own business.
There are other general issues to consider: you’re contemplating a move to a culture that’s almost certainly different to your own; will the way of life, and particularly the restrictions imposed on you, suit you? Will the relocation benefit your long-term career prospects? Will your family (especially any children) cope with and benefit from the move? What impact will it have on their education and employment prospects? If you aspire to be your own boss, as many people do, be aware that starting a business in the region can prove difficult and that you will almost always be required to have a local partner who has a majority holding. Is that acceptable to you?
The Middle East has been the scene of considerable conflict and unrest in recent decades, although the Gulf states are generally safe places to live and work. However, before travelling anywhere in the Middle East, it’s wise to obtain advice from your country’s foreign office. Note also that homosexuality is regarded as a criminal offence throughout the region.
You should ideally have a firm offer of employment before travelling to Qatar. Speculative visits are occasionally successful, but you need to be notably lucky and have high-grade qualifications and experience to stand any chance. In addition, you will almost certainly need knowledgeable local contacts and have done some research into the types of company which would most value your experience.
Qatar has a fast-growing economy, a GDP of around US$9 billion and, like its neighbours, relies heavily on its hydrocarbon resources. The Qatar General Petroleum Corporation (QGPC) is responsible for oil production and exploration, and the Qatari government has full control of oil resources. The country also has the third-largest reserves of liquified gas (LNG) in the world, after the states of the former Soviet Union and Iran. The north gas field is thought to contain the largest individual concentration of natural gas on earth. Qatar has devoted a great deal of investment to these reserves and expects to earn a considerable revenue from them in the future.
In the field of industry and manufacturing, Qatar produces steel, iron, cement, petrochemicals and fertilisers. Unlike most of its neighbours, Qatar exports a major proportion of its steel production. The Qatar Industrial Manufacturing Company (QIMCO) encourages the support of small-to-medium-sized commercial activities in the country. Agriculture and fishing are tiny contributors to the economy and the country relies heavily on food imports.
The Central Bank of Qatar controls monetary policy and regulates the banking system. There are a number of commercial and retail banks doing business in Qatar, including local and foreign owned banks. The Qatar stock exchange is active and has recently been boosted by government privatisation schemes. Foreign companies and joint ventures are subject to variable levels of corporate tax, although those that are wholly foreign-owned are allowed corporate tax ‘holidays’, specifically designed to encourage such businesses. Minority foreign investment is allowed in specified key sectors such as steel and petrochemicals.
Qatar is still seen as a rather secluded country and little is known about it. Therefore, it isn’t widely regarded as a tourist destination. In fact, Qatar has much to offer those seeking rest and recreation, with fine beaches, great watersports facilities, a world-class golf course and many superb, modern hotels in the capital city of Doha. Having seen the success of other Gulf states in this regard, the Qatari government is now beginning to promote the country as a tourist destination. The state of Qatar is rather insular (although it shows support for the USA by allowing that country an airfield on its territory) and displays its individuality by not always toeing the line with the other GCC States. It’s a generally safe country and is quieter than Dubai and Bahrain.