Kerala swoons over visa-free regime

 11 Aug 2017 - 1:23

Kerala swoons over visa-free regime
Muhammed Vasil (left) and N K Ayoob Rehman, who visited Qatar in March to present a paper at the Annual International Translation conference at Hamad bin Khalifa University.

By AP Muhammed Afsal / The Peninsula Online

Qatar’s decision to grant visa-free entry to citizens of 80 countries, including India, has delighted the people of Kerala that sends the largest number of people to the Gulf state.

Residents of the south Indian coastal state, which has been industrially stagnant, have been sending millions of educated and unskilled workers to the Gulf for the past half century. Keralites have shown their deep affection for Emir H H Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani and the people of Qatar in the wake of a Saudi-led blockade which started on June 5.

In a state that became fully literate two decades ago, and which boasts of relatively robust quality of life indicators like health and education — in part due to remittances from Gulf countries — opinion can’t be otherwise.

Most newspapers have published the story on the front page and TV networks began scrolling the bites the moment the decision was announced at Doha’s Oryx Rotana Hotel on Wednesday.

Scenes from Malayalam comedy movies, modified to reflect the possible mess for those who work here in the event of relatives coming in flew thick and fast as trolls, as internet memes are called in the world of Malayalees.

“My excitement is a bit dimmed because I can’t bring my wife as she is pregnant,” says Arun Raj Punnoli who has recently married and who works with a leading airline in the region. “This is a godsend for many of us who can’t afford running after procedures for prolonged days.”

“On a larger level, this will help people of different cultures to connect in this increasingly polarised world. This is at a time when rich countries shutting their doors at people of less-privileged countries. Qatar, being a nation of wealth has really set an example, says AM Najeeb, president of Thanathu, a cultural organisation, quoting Malayalam poet ONV Kurup’s legendary ‘lokame tharavadu’ which can be roughly translated as ‘Whole world is our ancestral home’

“Qatar did this despite the pressure of blockade imposed on it,” said a Doha-based calligraphy artist Kareem Graphy Kakkove. “It proves that this small country is big at heart. This will no doubt endear Keralites more to Qatar.”

“As a research scholar, I feel this is a great move,” says NK Ayoob Rehman, who visited Qatar in March this year to accompany his friend Muhammed Vasil as a coauthor to present a research paper at 8th Annual international Translation conference held in Doha at Hamad bin Khalifa University.

“This would open great avenues for researchers and scholars to attend conferences and workshops without the hassle of securing a visa in top class institutes in Qatar,” Ayoob added.

Interestingly, the title of the paper he co-authored for the conference was ‘Driving to Interpret: A case study of Arab interpreters,’ on Arabic interpreters and drivers in Kochi who guide tourists from Arabic-speaking countries. The conference was held on the theme of ‘21st Century Demands: Translators and Interpreters towards Human and Social Responsibilities’ by HBKU’S College of Humanities and Social Sciences.

This visa-free system is an attractive offer for the community, says Jabbar Chungathara, who’s hunting a job after his masters in journalism at Hyderabad’s prestigious English and Foreign Languages University. “It’s a tempting news for a newcomer and for the ones from traditionally migrant families. Best time to come and find a good job without tensions of money and time.

Dr Auswaf Ahsan, a publisher running Other Books in Kozhikode, who came to Doha last November for Doha International Book Fair at DECC said: “Next time I can come with larger entourage, because we had difficulty attending people with enough attention. More people means we can come with bigger stocks, he laughed.

According to the Kerala’s economic review published in 2016, Gulf expats send home more than Rs1 trillion every year quoting data from banks in the state. In other words, their remittances form almost a third of Kerala’s state domestic product of about Rs3 trillion. Three million— almost 10 per cent – of its people work for a living outside of its territory. A man from every third household is working in Gulf Arab countries.

However, one resident in Doha who refused to be quoted said he fears a rise in house rent. “On the event of parents and relatives visiting, some families may want to shift to bigger dwellings. That demand may create a chaos.” he added.

One Twitter handle, @cpt_t88 (Captain Tsubasa) responded to The Peninsula report: “For FamilyVisitVisa if Qatar excludes 1 required document: Residential tenancy contract, this will ease visa process & give boost to tourism”

Meanwhile, many residents from Philippines, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bangladesh and Pakistan expressed their dismay at being left out of the ‘bonanza’ while responding to The Peninsula report through Facebook, Twitter and comments section on its website.