Opinion

EU-style visas could boost profits and your ability to take lunch

GCC businesses would receive an immediate boost in profit if a GCC-wide visa system were adopted, or at least could enjoy longer lunch breaks, says CMME’s International Editor Stian Overdahl

Travelling between Europe and the GCC, and there are some cultural differences that make themselves felt within the business world. Despite economic conditions, the longer lunch (as long as two hours) has not disappeared from Europe, where there is an obviously more-relaxed pace to the business day.

Travelling with Europe’s Schengen Area for a business trip is also an enlightening experience, with no visa controls, and consequently the amount of queuing is significantly reduced.

Meanwhile when travelling in the GCC countries it is apparent there are contradictions in the region – certain features that are technologically advanced, and cutting edge by international standards, and brand new infrastructure, which exists alongside habits that belong to a low-wage, labour-surplus economy.

In Europe it seems that the high cost of labour has meant that the low-hanging fruit in terms of efficiency have already been plucked, while in the Middle East there’s plenty of ways that efficiency region-wide could be improved.

Air travel is a key asset to business in the GCC, with many companies operating across several, if not all, of the six nations, and others in the region. Managers sometimes fly into a city for a single day of meetings and progress inspections.

The money that is being invested in new airports – whether Doha, Jeddah or Dubai – is improving the experience for business travellers, likewise with stream-lining services like e-gate cards.

But the quantum leap will come when GCC-wide visas are adopted. Consider the amount of time that would be saved in the average businessman’s week if there was no need to queue for visas when travelling between GCC countries, not to mention the improvement in their mental health.

It’s no secret that the time spent waiting in visa queues across the GCC varies, depending on the airport, but equally the time of day and the number of flights arriving. It’s this uncertainty which is another problem for the business community – when planning to fly into a city for a 10am meeting, this means either booking an extra-early flight (setting the alarm clock for the dreaded 5.30am), or leaving it to chance that the queue won’t be exceptionally long, or slow-moving.

The good news is that efforts are underway to introduce GCC visas, with a single visa for tourists to the GCC likely to be introduced mid-way through next year. This will allow a single entry visa for all six countries – including Saudi Arabia – valid for one month, and a multi-entry visa valid for a full year.

In order to roll out the system, an incredible amount of work is going on behind the scenes, with governments having to communicate to one another on important issues such as security and share databases on restricted persons.

From the business community’s point of view, operating on a type of single-GCC visa can’t come soon enough. It stands to reason that, given the closeness of the GCC countries and their aims, that a person who is given residence in one country should be able to travel to another of the GCC nations.

Nevertheless there are obviously systems that have to be put in place to prevent unscrupulous individuals taking advantage of freedoms – this would include a GCC-wide database of debtors, so that individuals don’t try to flee unpaid debts across second-country borders.

Nevertheless, creation of single-GCC visas would improve the efficiency of businesses and increase profits through less wasted man-hours, especially as skill and remuneration rates in the region increase, and would improve the overall experience of conducting business.

And it would mean that businessmen in the GCC can enjou shorter queues, and therefore longer lunches (or at least shorter working days!).

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