A recently introduced visa-on-arrival procedure for Gulf expats is making it easier for some foreign residents to travel within the GCC, but still falls short of the unified tourist visa that’s been under discussion for years.
Earlier this year, GCC states brought in new measures allowing some expats who meet set criteria – including having a valid residence permit from a GCC country that shows they are one of 201 approved professions – can apply for an entry visa upon arriving at the airport or land border, as opposed to applying in advance of travel.
The aim is part of a wider initiative to make travel between the states easier for certain groups of people.
According to Brigadier Sheikh Nasser bin Abdullah al Thani, director of Qatar’s Abu Samra border post with Saudi Arabia, there have been “a number” of designated expat professionals taking advantage of the new rules to drive to Qatar, The Peninsula reports from an article for in-house police magazine Al Shurta.
The GCC-wide initiative covers not only visitors to Qatar, but also Qatar residents wishing to travel to other states in the region.
However, Saudi Arabia – which shares Qatar’s only land border – does not appear to have made any announcement regarding the loosening of visa-on-arrival formalities.
According to Qatar government’s Hukoomi portal, the criteria for applying for an on-the-spot GCC Residents’ Visit Visa include:
- A GCC Residents’ Permit (RP), valid for at least six months;
- An original passport with at least six months’ validity;
- A return ticket to the point of origin (if you are flying); and
- The applicant must be currently employed in one of 201 authorized professions.
This list of approved professions is wide-ranging and covers many jobs in medicine and healthcare, animal welfare, law and academia, among other fields.
While some careers such as diplomat, financial expert and geologist are not surprising for the region, other permitted professions include journalist, earthquakes expert, horse-breeding technician and author. You can see the full list here.
Tourist visa calls
The new visa requirements have been brought in as the GCC has been under pressure for a number of years to introduce one GCC-wide tourist visa, similar to Europe’s Schengen system, which allows travelers to visit multiple member countries with a single visa.
While the latest system does not quite have the same openness as the European version, and still requires individual visas for each country visited, it is hoped it will start to ease travel for residents between the six GCC states.
Last year, amid rumors that a single visa system may come into effect during 2014, the GCC’s business body said this was unlikely, as there was no unified electronic database linking the systems for the member states.
Abdul Rahim Hassan Naqi, the Secretary-General of the Federation of GCC Chambers of Commerce and Industry, said:
“The major problem is the non-existence of an electronic link between the GCC member states.
“Whenever Gulf citizens or foreigners move between GCC countries, their data are recorded and updated only by the state they are leaving and the state they are entering. There is no full Gulf update. We do need to have an electronic link between the six countries of the Council in order to exchange data and therefore ease the implementation of the common Gulf tourism visa,” he added.
Tourism within the Gulf is big business, and attracting Gulf nationals and residents to spend some of their leisure time in Qatar one of the key aspects of the nation’s tourism strategy, which was launched by Qatar Tourism Authority earlier this year.
As part of the new plan, QTA hopes to boost Qatar’s tourism figures five-fold, raising them to 7.4 million by 2030, as it widens its offering to GCC and international visitors alike.
Events such as the Souq Waqif festivals, Katara’s Dhow Boat Festival and Eid festivities regularly attract other guests from the Gulf to Qatar.
Just this weekend, the QTA said it would be stepping up its tourism promotional activities in the GCC by opening representative offices in Riyadh and Jeddah in the Kingdom, which will also serve other Gulf states.
Rashed al-Querese, QTA’s executive director of marketing and promotions, said GCC visitors to Qatar make up 40 percent of all arrivals, while half of these come from Saudi Arabia alone, according to local media reports.
Meanwhile, GCC states have started cooperating to crack down on illegal behavior by applying a law that bans a person deported from one country in the region from entering any other member state.
According to Manafez Dubai, the official newsletter of the General Directorate of Residency and Foreigners Affairs Dubai quoted in Dubai-based Gulf News, the new law is based on the GCC security pact which was drawn up in 1994 and then amended in 2012. It mostly applied to cases of drugs, money laundering and murder, the newspaper said.
Each case will be considered individually, except in drug-related incidences, when the region-wide ban will be automatic.