Qatar on Wednesday announced a visa-on-arrival entry programme for citizens of 80 countries to support its air transport and tourism industries amid a two-month boycott imposed on the Gulf state by six neighbouring states.
Nationals from dozens of countries, including India, Lebanon, New Zealand, South Africa, and the United States, will now receive tourist visas on arrival to the gas-rich country which hosts the soccer World Cup in 2022.
The countries were selected on the basis of security and economic considerations, or for the buying-power of their nationals.
Lebanon is the only Arab country in the list published at the end of the news conference, although the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council of which Qatar is still a member allows freedom of movement by its nationals
"The visa exemption scheme will make Qatar the most open country in the region," Hassan al-Ibrahim, chief tourism development officer at Qatar Tourism Authority told reporters at a press conference in Doha.
A Saudi Arabia-led group that includes Egypt, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates imposed a boycott on Qatar on 5 June, accusing it of aiding and abetting terrorism and maintaining close ties with Iran and cut off all transport links with the country.
Doha has denied the charges and has sought to build diplomatic and trade ties beyond the Gulf region to overcome the challenge.
The visa scheme is the latest in a series of measures aimed at preparing Qatar for greater economic independence in the long term.
Qatar has flown in food supplies from Turkey and Iran and chartered new shipping routes via Oman to bring in construction materials but hotel occupancy rates have fallen with Saudis, a key source of tourism, barred by their government from visiting the country.
Visitors from the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council usually account for almost half of all visitors to Qatar.
Air links suspended by the four Arab states represented around 25 per cent of flights by state-owned Qatar Airways, one of the region's big three carriers.
On 3 August, Qatar approved legislation allowing certain permanent residents to benefit from parts of the state's generous welfare system, including education and health-care services, a first for the Gulf.
Under the new rules, children with a Qatari mother and a foreign father can benefit from the new status, along with foreign residents who have "given service to Qatar" or have "skills that can benefit the country". Those eligible for the new status will be afforded the same access as Qataris to free public services, such as health and education.
Out of Qatar's 2.4 million population, 90 per cent are foreigners, most of them construction workers from South Asia.