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Visitors tour the rock-hewn tombs of Madain Saleh near the city of Al Ula. The authorities eventually want to attract up to 2 million visitors annually to Al Ula. Image Credit: Reuters file

Dubai: Saudi Arabia on Thursday announced that all expatriate residents in GCC countries, irrespective of their profession, will be allowed to obtain a tourist visa.

The decision was announced by the Ministry of Tourism. “Expatriate residents in GCC countries by applying through the “Visit Saudi” platform to obtain an electronic tourism visa, provided that the residence permit is valid for no less than three months.

Also, all first-degree relatives of residence visa holders and domestic workers who wish to visit along with their sponsors are allowed to obtain a tourist visa.

Those wishing to visit the Kingdom can obtain more information about the visa on www.visitsaudi.com, or the official website of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, www.mofa.gov.sa.

The multiple entry visa is valid for both tourism and for performing Umrah, Saudi Arabia’s Minister of Tourism Ahmed Al Khateeb said.

“#SaudiArabia visa application is now simpler, more convenient and straightforward for residents of GCC states, regardless of their profession,” Al Khateeb tweeted on Thursday.

The tourist visa does not allow the holder to perform Hajj or perform Umrah during the Hajj season.

In the past, only certain categories of professions were allowed to apply for a tourist visa.

Host of facilities

Saudi Arabia in recent months unveiled a host of facilities for Muslims wishing to come to the country to undertake Umrah.

Last week, a Saudi official said the number of Muslims performing Umrah or lesser pilgrimage since the start of the season last July is expected to reach 9 million by the end of the upcoming Ramadan.

Ramadan, due to begin later this month, usually marks the peak of the Umrah season.

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“Ramadan is one of the months when overseas Umrah pilgrims come in large numbers. This year, there is something new, namely the introduction of the tourist visa that allows holder to perform Umrah,’’ added Undersecretary of Saudi Ministry of Hajj and Umrah Amr Al Madah.

He said that the numbers of Umrah pilgrims have so far neared 8 million.

“It has become very easy to obtain an Umrah visa, a matter that makes it easy for the arrival of many pilgrims,’’ he told Saudi-owned TV Al Arabiya.

Muslims holding different types of entry visas such as the personal, visit and tourism visas are allowed to undertake Umrah and visit Al Rawda Al Sharifa, where the tomb of the Prophet Mohammed (Peace be Upon Him) is located in the Prophet’s Mosque in Medina after booking an e-appointment.

Saudi authorities have also extended the Umrah visa from 30 days to 90 and allowed holders to enter the kingdom via all land, air and sea outlets and leave from any airport.