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Simplified Visa Options in the Middle East: An Overview of the Gulf Cooperation Council

What is the Gulf Cooperation Council?  

The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) was first conceptualized in the 1970s and functions as a political and economic union between GCC member states, but eventually came to include some common immigration policies. The Charter that officially created the GCC was signed on 25 May 1981, with the goal of creating unity among member states based on their common political and cultural identities. The GCC consists of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).  

The primary objectives of the GCC focused on creating similar economic and financial affairs, establishing stronger trade opportunities, stimulating the transfer of information and creating stability and security throughout the region. Through the GCC charter, member states also sought to create common immigration procedures for the purposes of tourism and business travel. 

Entry Benefits for Citizens of GCC Member States and Foreign National Residents 

Through this union, citizens of GCC member states are granted a selection of rights related to their ability to perform economic activities within each GCC member state. In some cases, these nationals benefit from simplified immigration procedures and requirements or visa-free travel options.  

Several examples include: 

  • Citizens of GCC member states are often permitted to remain in another GCC host country for longer periods of time and are afforded similar rights to citizens of the host member state. 
  • Officials of the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait allow GCC citizens to enter the country visa-free for tourism, business purposes and work assignments if they can provide proof of a national identity card and proof of home country citizenship. In some countries, GCC citizens are also permitted.  
  • Qatar permits citizens of GCC member states a one-month visa for business visitor purposes.  
  • Some member states allow GCC citizens to obtain a citizen labor card rather than a work and residence permit. Often, the process for obtaining a labor card is less complicated than the work and residence permit application process.  

On the other hand, foreign national residents based in a GCC member state who enter another GCC member state are often required to obtain a visa-on-arrival, apply for a visa prior to travel, or apply for an eVisa. In these cases, these foreign nationals may also be required to meet certain eligibility requirements, such as holding a certain job title, possessing a valid GCC resident permit and presenting a valid passport. These travelers also require work permits to participate in work-related activities.  

Protection of GCC Member State Citizens 

Some GCC member states, such as Bahrain, reserve certain occupations for only GCC member state nationals. Other member states, such as Kuwait and Oman, maintain quotas that require a certain percentage of a company's workforce to be GCC member state citizens if the company intends to hire foreign national employees.  

Future of the GCC 

Since the spring of 2022, GCC member state citizens have been required to carry an applicable visa when traveling between most GCC member states due to security and health concerns that started during the COVID-19 pandemic. As pandemic-related entrance restrictions are reduced across the region, GCC member states are likely to reintroduce legacy GCC immigration policies and expand travel access and travel privilege to GCC member state citizens.  

Within the next year, citizens of many GCC member states, including Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE will be permitted to travel visa-free to the United Kingdom for a limited duration. The European Union (EU) has also discussed introducing visa-free travel options for some GCC member state foreign nationals and citizens.  

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This article was published on 18 July 2022 and may not be the most recent update concerning COVID-19 entrance restrictions, testing requirements and quarantine measurers. For the most recent updates be sure to check our Global Mobility Resource Center.

Content in this publication is for informational purposes only and not intended as legal advice, nor should it be relied on as such. For additional information on the issues discussed, consult an attorney at one of the two U.S. Law Firms working with the Envoy Platform or another qualified professional. On non-U.S. immigration issues, consult an Envoy global immigration service provider or another qualified representative.