Nationals of more than 20 countries visiting the kingdom on business will no longer be required to obtain an entry visa in advance, according to the secretary-general of the Council of Saudi Chambers for Commerce & Industry, Fahd al-Sultan.

In a statement released by the council on 18 October, Al-Sultan said visas would instead be obtainable on arrival. ‘It has been decided to cancel the condition of having the visa application approved by the Chamber of Commerce or the Foreign Ministry. The only condition for issuance of an entry visa for any businessman is that he should belong to recognised and registered businesses or commercial companies.’

The decision comes just a month after Riyadh announced it would no longer require business or tourist visitors to obtain a letter of invitation from a local sponsor before applying for a visa, and that all Saudi embassies should issue visas within 24 hours of application (MEED 30:9:05).

Both the October and September rule changes are to be implemented gradually over the coming months, although Saudi officials are reticent to say when precisely. ‘SAGIA [Saudi Arabian General Investment Authority] welcomes this move,’ says director-general for marketing & investor services Waleed al-Yahya. ‘We hope it will increase investment in the kingdom and make it an attractive investment destination. We hope it’s the beginning of even better things to come.’

The news will also be welcomed by the thousands of business travellers entering the kingdom every year. ‘The visa situation has been a major bugbear for us, and we got very excited when we heard about the changes,’ says one Riyadh-based diplomat. ‘Obviously it’s good news, although I haven’t heard or seen anything that confirms it yet. We have not heard of anyone being let in easily, or of embassies issuing visas quickly. I wouldn’t recommend anyone attempt to come in without a visa just yet.’

Riyadh’s decision is understood to have been prompted by its imminent accession to the WTO, which requires members to impose few visa restrictions. The modernisation of the local passport system to meet international standards is also a factor.

The countries included in the new rules include: EU states, the US, Canada, Japan, China, Taiwan, Malaysia, Brunei, Australia and New Zealand.