'Free Visa' Trade Booming

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Visa trading is thriving in Qatar, thanks to the economic boom in the country that has been attracting jobseekers from various parts of the world. The high demand for skilled and semi-skilled workers seem to have prompted several companies and individuals to engage in this illegal business.

The practice has been here for many years, but it has now become rampant with the availability of more jobs as well as visas, particularly in the construction sector. According to estimates of the National Human Rights Committee, as quoted by an Arabic daily yesterday, some 500 people, who came to Qatar on a "free visa" as it is commonly described, are working in Souq Haraj.

Senior officials of the Qatar Chamber of Commerce and Industry (QCCI) recently urged the government to take stern action against companies which are involving in visa trading. It was pointed out that several companies are misusing their commercial licence to procure visas and then sell it out at exorbitant rates. Such firms exist only in name and they don't have any work or projects to employ the people they have been recruiting from outside.

"Free visas" are sold at varying rates depending on the nationality and the nature of the job mentioned in the visa. Since the sponsor does not offer a job under his sponsorship, the worker is forced to look for a job elsewhere and work illegally.

Indian, Pakistani and Egyptian visas cost more compared to other Asian and African countries, The Peninsula has learnt. These visas are available through agents and sub agents, all of whom are beneficiaries of the trade. The prices range from QR3,000 to QR15,000 or even more depending on how clever and greedy are the sponsors and their agents.

Besides the huge amount for "buying" a visa, the worker is also required to pay a fixed amount to the sponsor every month, not less than QR500 in most cases. The sponsors also fleece the worker by taking exorbitant sums during issuance and renewal of residence permits and while giving permission to apply for a driving license and other official requirements. There are cases where a worker never meets his sponsor since the entire deal is handled by the clandestine agents.

Not only unskilled and semi-skilled workers, a number of professionals are also coming to the country on "free visas". For many it serves as an opening to the vibrant job market here. They work here and there until they find a permanent job and an "authentic" sponsor. In such cases, they transfer the sponsorship, again paying huge sums for a release.

These workers, who always risk the chance of being caught by the law-enforcing authorities for working outside their legal sponsors, fall victims of continuous harassment by the sponsors as well as their agents, unless they are lucky enough to have a kind-hearted sponsor.