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Single GCC visa to be ready by mid-2014

GCC countries are planning to launch the European-style Schengen Visa by mid-2014 to enable easy and smooth movement of Gulf-based expatriates and foreign businessmen of the six-member bloc.

The GCC interior ministers are already working on the project, which is hoped to boost tourism and trade further in the region, while shortening bureaucratic delays, said Abdul Rahim Hassan Al-Naqi, Secretary-General of GCC Chambers of Commerce and Industry.

Currently, technical details of the project, particularly, an automated system to link the member nations, is being worked on, said Abdul Rahman Al-Zamil, President of Riyad Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

The initiative is major, keeping in mind, the growing number of foreigners visiting the Gulf state for business and tourism, he said.

He urged the GCC officials to increase pace of the project, as the single visa would facilitate movement of about 15millin expat workers in the Gulf countries.

Expats living and working in the GCC nations constitute 31 percent of Gulf population. Saudi Arabia has majority of foreign workers, despite its stringent visa norms, and is home to about 9 million foreigners.

Speaking about benefits of single visa, Al-Zamil said that introduction of the visa will have good benefits for the Gulf economy and will boost the income of nationals, particularly that of tourism sector.

The Gulf nations need to have an electronic link between the member nations to exchange data and ease the process of implementation of common Gulf tourism visa. The GCC visa would be issued soon, but, it may not replace the individual visas of the member states, said a local travel agent.

The GCC single visa will be similar to the Schengen visa. Nationals of the 26 EU Schengen countries and the US, UK, Japan, S.Korea and Malaysia do not require visa to enter UAE, Qatar, Oman and Bahrain. However, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia still require most nationalities to apply for visas. Individuals who have been barred from entering a GCC country for any legal reasons or those who have already been deported may not be considered for unified visa.

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