(MENAFN - Arab News) The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) is working to integrate its fast-track immigration services at airports, which will enable Gulf nationals to clear entry and exit points across the six Gulf states using their national ID cards.
"The ID cards need to be upgraded with more inbuilt capacity before the cards can be used for faster clearances," said Ahmed Al-Kaabi, a spokesman of the GCC General Secretariat. He said a large number of Gulf nationals, including Saudis, are already using their ID cards instead of their passports for traveling around the GCC member states for business and leisure.
An increasing number of Saudi nationals have also been using their Saudi ID cards, or bitaqat Al-Ahwal Al-Madaniya, for travel and for identification with government agencies and for third party service providers such as banks. The credit card sized Saudi ID card contains a 2.86-megabyte optical strip, which stores data and a photo.
Al-Kaabi pointed out that the GCC General Secretariat had already adopted the unified identity card reader's program. It is based on the edict of the GCC Supreme Committee to consider the ID card as personal identity evidence for various purposes. The same card will be upgraded to an e-Gate card, to provide a fast-track immigration clearance using smart technology, he added.
This means that when all GCC countries have implemented the project, Saudi ID cardholders can avoid manned emigration counters while exiting the Kingdom and while entering another GCC country. Expatriates in the Kingdom can also integrate the e-Gate facility on their iqama (proof of residency).
Unlike Saudis, expatriates will have to produce their passports to enter any other country in the GCC. "The entry regulations for expatriates in any Gulf state have been simplified largely," Al-Kaabi observed.
He said there is no problem for expatriates to travel from one GCC country to another. The new system will first be introduced for Saudi and Gulf nationals to take them through immigration faster. The new system would also save space on a passenger's passport, as it would eliminate the need for a manual stamp before every journey outside the country. It would also offer a speedy service to time-pressed business people of the Gulf countries.
Similar e-Gates may be set up at railway stations of the Gulf countries once the GCC combined railway project is launched. Such a move would have added significance in view of the progressively growing populations in the Gulf countries, including the Kingdom.
The GCC population reached an estimated 46.8 million in 2011, and is forecast to increase to 49.8 million in 2013.