x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Single visit visa for GCC's six nations 'as soon as 2014'

The GCC secretariat plans to implement a Schengen-style visa to foreigners so they can visit all GCC states on one visa by mid-2014.

DUBAI // A unified visa for the six GCC countries could be available from midway through next year, reports say.

Kuwaiti security sources this week said the GCC secretariat planned to introduce a visa that would allow foreigners to visit all GCC states, similar to Europe's Schengen visa, the Kuwaiti daily newspaper Al Rai reported.

"Any move to forge closer integration by the GCC is a positive step," said Dr Abdulkhaleq Abdulla, professor of political science at UAE University in Al Ain.

Dr Abdulla, who has written many articles on GCC integration, said such a move would bring union between the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Oman and Qatar a step closer.

"If Saudi Arabia has signed this it is a strong indicator towards a unified GCC," he said.

The report said single-entry visas would be valid for one month but visas for more than one entry could be issued for a year.

"The plan to have a GCC tourism visa, similar to the Schengen visa in Europe, is about to be implemented after obstacles have been cleared," a source said.

Conditions for obtaining a GCC visa include evidence of sufficient finances, the source said.

"There are some technical issues that are being addressed now and the GCC visa could be issued in mid-2014," he said.

It is not expected to replace the member states' individual visas.

Citizens of the 26 EU Schengen countries, along with other nations including the US, UK, Japan, South Korea and Malaysia, do not require visas to enter the UAE, Qatar, Oman and Bahrain.

But Saudi Arabia and Kuwait still require most nationalities to apply for one.

Those barred from a GCC country for legal reasons or those who have already been deported would not be considered for the unified visa.

Dr Theodore Karasik, the director of research at the Institute of Near East and Gulf Military Analysis, said such a move pointed to a long period of work and cooperation on many levels, including security.

"This is proof that the GCC countries are working closely together," Dr Karasik said. "Such a system will help to track movements within the region and the monitoring of the flow of individuals in a unified way across the GCC."

He said that with the current political upheaval in parts of the Middle East, this could also help the GCC in securing its borders.

"A unified visa system will help to insulate the GCC from what is happening across the regions neighbouring it, like in the subcontinent, Iraq, Syria, Egypt and other countries that are going through historic events," Dr Karasik said.

He said the move would increase commerce and boost tourism.