Single visa for GCC tourists likely by mid-2014



Muscat: The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) is planning to launch a unified visa by mid-2014 for tourists visiting the region, the aim being to simplify travel formalities for the visitors.

Quoting a senior official of the GCC, a report in the Saudi Arabia media claimed that the six-member GCC states are currently working on setting up an automated system for exchanging information online, to facilitate enforcing a single tourist visa system.

"An agreement between the GCC countries requires enforcement of different technical elements, especially the presence of an automatic system that links the member countries, a matter involving several entities at the government machinery in every country," the media reported, quoting Abdullah Al Shobaili, Assistant Undersecretary at the GCC for Economic affairs.

"The issue had been discussed at the joint meeting of the Tourist Cooperation Committee in the GCC and the GCC Tourist counterpart in the GCC Chambers of Commerce and Industry, which was held in Fujairah last year," the official said, noting that the meeting's outcome had been studied extensively.

The official, however, said that a unified GCC law to combat trade fraud and a statute for the protection of consumers were nearing completion. The two laws aim at protecting the parties concerned in the entire manufacturing process, covering all stakeholders such as producers, consumers, distributors, importers, exporters and the economic environment.

Meanwhile, quoting sources, media reports disclosed that the draft bill for issuing a GCC single tourist visa, similar to the European single visa (Schengen Visitor Visa), will be subject to the completion of some technical procedures and is expected to commence by mid-2014.

The sources said the draft bill would be the most comprehensive in the field of security cooperation among the GCC states, as it will create a unified GCC security enquiry and information database that issues a GCC visa without reservation as per a code suitable for use in the GCC states.

"The unified visa will help to boost tourism activities in the region. Oman will especially benefit from the unified and simplified visa procedures," Renny Johnson, executive manager at Mezoon Travels, told the Times of Oman.

The system will enable a visitor with a GCC visit visa to enter all GCC countries. Moreover, the database will be connected to the blacklists that contain the names and fingerprints of those banned from entering every member country.

With the help of the new visa, Arab and foreign tourists would be able to visit all the GCC member countries including Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, simplifying travel formalities for visitors.

A single-entry visa would be valid for one month while multiple-entry visas could be issued for one year, reports said, adding that the conditions for obtaining the GCC visa will include presenting evidence of sufficient financial resources.


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