People, Travel

Schengen-Style Visa for (P)GCC Tourists

Schengen-Style Visa for (P)GCC TouristsSchengen-Style Visa for (P)GCC Tourists

The (Persian) Gulf Cooperation Council is planning to launch a European-style Schengen visa to allow tourists to visit all six member-countries, which are Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the UAE, Kuwait, Qatar and Oman.

It will enable expats and foreign businessmen to move easily across the borders of the six-member bloc. Expatriates living and working in the (P)GCC represent 31 percent of the Persian Gulf population. Saudi Arabia, which has the most foreign workers despite stringent visa regulations, is home to about 9 million foreigners.

(P)GCC interior ministers are working on the details of the project, which many believe will boost tourism and trade in the region, and cut out lengthy bureaucratic delays, according to CHN.

Shahir A. Hamid, a travel agent in Saudi Arabia, welcomed the move. “In fact, anyone who has traveled frequently within the (P)GCC will have their own ‘horror stories’ over the length of time they were forced to wait at passport control.”

The Persian Gulf states do need an electronic link between the member countries to exchange data and therefore ease the implementation of the common Persian Gulf tourism visa, he said. “I have heard that the (P)GCC visa could be issued soon. It will not replace the member states’ individual visas.”

The single visa will be modeled on the Schengen visa. It should be noted that citizens of the 26 EU Schengen countries and the US, UK, Japan, S. Korea and Malaysia do not require visa to enter the UAE, Qatar, Oman and Bahrain. However, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait still require most of the nationalities to apply for visas. Those barred from a (P)GCC country for legal reasons or those who have already been deported would not be considered for the unified visa.

High-ranking business leaders and travel and tourism experts welcomed the proposal.