For the first time in the Gulf, Qatar is offering permanent residence visas to foreigners who buy freehold properties.

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"We have already begun offering permanent residence visas to foreign buyers of properties in Qatar. The visa is issued for [an] unlimited period, not like some others who issue it for a limited period and the buyer has to continuously renew it," Akbar Al Baker, chairman of the Qatar Tourism Authority and chief executive of Qatar Airways, told Gulf News yesterday.

"The permanent residence visa that we are offering is linked to the tenure of the property. So the investor remains a permanent resident as long as he owns that property," he said.

Dubai sparked a property boom in the region in May 2002 by offering freehold properties. Oman has also announced plans to develop freehold property.

In Dubai, people can apply for residence visa once the property is purchased and paid for in full, and only if an owner has no other visa. The visa is renewable every three years and subject to the regulations of Dubai's Naturalisation and Residency Department.

He said Qatar was planning to reform property and tourism regulations to spur growth.

The Qatari Government is spending more than $20 billion (Dh73.46 billion) on tourism infrastructure, in addition to the New Doha International Airport, which will cost $5.5 billion (Dh20.20 billion).

The investment is part of a 20-year master plan unveiled last year.

In addition to this, Al Baker said, developers are planning to invest more than $50 billion (Dh183.65 billion) in hotels and real estate.

He said 5 out of 19 construction packages for the new Doha airport had been awarded to contractors. "They include infrastructure, waste management and land reclamation."

"The other packages are also progressively being tendered and parties are bidding for the projects," he said.

The airport will be completed in two phases. The first phase at a cost of $2.5 billion (Dh9.18 billion) will be completed in 2009 and the rest in 2012.

"We are already mobilising resources for the second phase. Some of the projects marked for the second phase are also going for tenders," Al Baker said.

He said Qatar Airways, one of the fastest growing airlines in the region, would announce a major order for nearly 60 aircraft.

"We are talking to both manufacturers and will be able to make an announcement soon," he said.

Al Baker said late last year that the airline, which now operates only Airbus aircraft, was eyeing Boeing's 787 Dreamliner.

In 2003, Dubai-based Emirates ordered 71 aircraft for $19.1 billion (Dh70.15 billion) the largest single order in aviation history, which included 45 A380 superjumbos and 26 Boeing 777ERs. Emirates later topped up its orderbook.

In the same year, Qatar Airways ordered 32 Airbus aircraft for $5 billion (Dh18.36 billion).

Airline sources said both airlines planned to announce new orders at the Paris Air Show in June.