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Plans for unified visa schemes spell good news for expats and business travellers across the globe.
Four regional economic areas have announced plans to create unified visa regimes covering parts of south-east Asia, east Africa, southern Africa and the Middle East.
The five countries of the Mekong River Delta have begun talks to create a common tourist visa. This would allow seamless travel between Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand and Burma (now officially known as Myanmar). These countries already enjoy healthy tourist numbers individually.
The leaders of five East African Community nations also agreed to the creation of a unified tourist visa at a summit in Kenya recently. The participating countries are Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Sudan and Uganda.
Meanwhile, the 15 countries of the Southern African Development Community have recommitted themselves to earlier plans for a unified visa. The member nations include Angola, Botswana, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Seychelles, South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
The motivation among member countries is to boost tourism, business, shopping, travel and economic activities.
In the Middle East, the six member nations of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) may introduce a unified visa as early as 2014. Participating countries include Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
In all cases, the plans are likely to encounter bureaucratic obstacles, and it may take years before the proposed unified visas are implemented.
For the GCC, it is hoped a single-entry visa should be valid for one month while multiple-entry visas could be issued for one year. With GCC visas, the traveller must also prove they have sufficient financial resources. Gulf nationals can already travel to any of the GCC countries without visas by presenting an identity card, but most foreigners must apply for visas ahead of their travel.
Larger economic zones could eventually be created across entire continents, following the Schengen system in Europe. The Schengen scheme allows business people and tourists in 26 European countries to move freely under just one visa.
Mark Dent, a British expat living in Saudi Arabia, said: “This will make things a whole lot easier, especially for those who have to travel around the region as part of their job.”