Officials of Amer service attend to a visa transaction. The facility delivers a range of services offered by the General Directorate of Residency and Foreigners’ Affairs. Image Credit: Supplied

Manama: The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states have started work on issuing unified visas to foreign tourists and businessmen, Qatari media have reported.

Once the Schengen-like joint visa system for the region is implemented, foreign businessmen and tourists travelling to one GCC state will be able to enter the other member-countries as well.

Abdul Rahman Al Attiyah, the GCC secretary-general, said the committee set up to study the possibility of issuing unified GCC visas to foreigners has been asked to frame rules and regulations, Qatari daily The Peninsula said on Wednesday.

Security would be an important aspect of these rules.

Al Attiyah reportedly said the committee had been urged to approve the new visa system and stressed that the earlier decision by the GCC countries to let their citizens travel in the region using their identity cards had been an advantage.

"Because of this policy, trade within the region has grown immensely and Gulf citizens have come closer to each other," the Secretary-General was quoted as saying.

Al Atiyyah, whose term in office ends next month, recalled that expatriates accompanying GCC citizens such as drivers, cooks and maids, were given entry visas at entry points.

They were all earlier required to obtain visas prior to their travel, a decision that hindered the smooth movement of citizens within the six-member alliance.

The Qatar Chamber of Commerce and Industry (QCCI) has hailed the GCC decision to issue unified visas to foreign businessmen and tourists.

"This will encourage foreign investment in the region. We welcome any move that aims at enhancing business and investment in the region," Mohammad Bin Ahmad Al Kuwari, QCCI Vice-Chairman, said.

"Life here has changed. The economy is opening up," he told The Peninsula.

According to Al Kuwari, the unified visa system for the region could be introduced soon after the Federation of Arab Chambers of Commerce and Industry met in Sharm Al Shaikh and urged the GCC states to begin issuing unified visas to Arab businessmen.