Qatari businesses struggling due to expat exodus

Published:  20 Jul at 6 PM
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According to a Reuters report, businesses catering for middle class Qataris and expat professionals are failing due to lack of demand caused by lay-offs of thousands of well-paid workers from overseas.

Large-scale layoffs of expat workers at white collar levels have taken place for some two years now, spurred by the fall in oil prices. Last year, Qatar Petroleum sent redundancy notices to an estimated 3,000 professional expat employees, with its subsidiary RasGas also shedding hundreds. Danish Oil giant Mersk rid itself of hundreds more over the same time period. Other companies affected include Hamad Medical Corp and Al Jazeera, with over 1500 jobs cut in total.

Many expat employees had their families with them as part of their relocation packages, with their departures hitting hard on international schools, shops and upscale restaurants. As a result, mall owners are slashing rents to attract tenants, hotels are reducing their room rates and formerly busy restaurants and stores are simply closing down.

Qatar is home to around 2.5 million residents, with the number steady for now as blue-collar workers are still being recruited from overseas to work on construction sites for even more new malls and luxury hotels. However, the continuing influx of labourers is of no use to businesses which relied on high-spending expats and their families.

The owner of a luxury mall due to open in August told Reuters he felt the glut of middle-class retail venues may well become a problem for the emirate. His own mall, he added, is specifically aimed at the Qatari elite and should do well, but the ten malls now under construction may struggle due to a lack of customers.

Meanwhile, Oman’s new e-visa system is causing serious headaches for young women under the age of 23 who want to travel overseas. The easy-to-obtain e-visa, it seems, cannot be used unless a parent or sponsor is accompanying the traveller. The new rule applies equally to female expats, who are complaining vociferously that it’s making them miss out on business opportunities, conferences and even concerts in Dubai.

A suggestion that a non-e visa only takes five days to arrange hasn’t been well received, with many stating they often need to travel on business at the last minute. Omani visa law states all expats not included in a 46-country list of states with UAE treaties must use the e-visa path, confusing the situation still further. Parents are also not happy, as it’s not always possible to quit work and accompany one’s daughter on a visit abroad.
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