Schengen-style GCC Visa likely by mid-2016

RIYADH: A unified visa for the six member states of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) may be available from the middle of next year, said GCC officials here. 

The GCC General Secretariat is working on the ambitious proposal to introduce the visa that would allow foreigners to visit all GCC states, more or less similar to Europe's Schengen visa. 

"The unified GCC visa could soon become a reality following the meeting of the GCC tourism ministers in Oman last week," said a Gulf official. He confirmed that tourism officials discussed a range of topics including the long-awaited unified visa proposal and a unified tourism policy at the meeting. 

"All GCC countries stand to gain from the new tourism policy," said Khalid bin Salem Al-Ghassani, GCC assistant secretary general for cultural and media affairs. 

He made these remarks while speaking about the GCC tourism officials' meeting, which was attended by Prince Sultan bin Salman, chief of the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage (SCTNH)

Al-Ghassani said that a draft project submitted by the UAE on regulating and promoting the tourism industry sector was also discussed by the officials. The tourism officials discussed at length cooperation between the public and private sectors and a memo submitted by the GCC Secretariat to protect urban heritage.

Referring to the delay in legislation on the part of the GCC that will eventually introduce a unified visa, Salahuddin Al-Osaimi, a travel and tourism industry leader, said that "there is need to finalize the issue as early as possible ... we must learn from the European experience in this regard." 

He spoke about the benefits of a common Schengen visa, that "allows a Saudi or an expatriate to visit 26 countries on one visa endorsement."

A large number of trade and tourism projects are being implemented across the GCC including the Kingdom, Al-Osaimi pointed out.