ABU DHABI // The British government is reviewing its visa requirements to ease access to the UK for Emiratis, a senior Foreign Office official has told The National.
Simon Fraser, senior foreign policy adviser to the British foreign secretary, William Hague, said his government had not reached a decision on the matter but expected to do so soon.
The move follows an announcement made by David Cameron, the prime minister, during his visit to the country this month.
"The prime minister gave a very positive indication that we will have progress in that area during his visit," Mr Fraser said.
Mr Fraser said, ""There is a process going on at the moment in looking at the arrangements we have in place for the visa requirements but I don't think we have reached a decision on that."
As for when Mr Cameron might settle the matter, Mr Fraser said, "I am not sure when the decision is going to be reached but we are expecting it in the near future."
Mr Cameron said this month that Britain was committed to opening the doors in both directions.
"Emirati investment in the UK across a range of sectors - including real estate, banking, sport and infrastructure - is vital to our economy back in Britain," he said.
"So we will continue to do all we can to make the UK an attractive and accessible investment destination - reducing corporation tax to among the lowest in the G20; generous new tax breaks for early stage investment; and entrepreneur visas so the brightest can come to the UK and set up a business."
According to Mr Fraser, what his government wants is to be part of developing commercial relationships. "The key thing is to be open to people and to have an exchange of our peoples, business people, students and visitors," he said. "We want to welcome them in to Britain and we must pursue that while, at the same time, meeting our own immigration requirements which, of course, is an important issue."
He added that getting the balance right between ease of access and immigration requirements was important but his government acknowledged the fact that this was a significant issue and it was paying close attention to it.
A simpler visa application process would be welcomed by many in the UAE. However, Asma AbdulMalik, a country programme officer at Dubai Cares, said it should be viewed as a first step.
"You can only maximise the value of the UK visa if you have easier access to the rest of EU," she said. "On the other hand, UAE citizens should not be a concern to UK, considering they're a small population and are unlikely to relinquish their passport in exchange for UK citizenship, or migrate to the UK."
Sager Almarri, 24, a graduate student, said visa application can be very time-consuming.
"Easing [the visa rules] makes things better," he said.
Mr Fraser was in the UAE as part of a Middle East tour that took in Lebanon, Qatar and Bahrain last week. "This is a follow-up to our prime minister's successful visit to the region and we are looking to follow not only on the political aspects, but also the commercial aspects," he said.
During his UAE visit, Mr Fraser met with Dr Anwar Gargash, the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs and the Minister of State for Federal National Council Affairs, as well as Sheikh Abdullah Al Hamed, the director of European affairs at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. They talked about diplomatic cooperation and the challenges their respective foreign ministries faced in pursuing their agendas.
"It is a changing world and the UAE is a very active country diplomatically, so we talked about how we are going to be organising ourselves and working together," Mr Fraser said.
He added that the UK has many items on its foreign policy agenda for the region and beyond, and that the UAE is a close partner on many of the issues.
The British ambassador to the UAE, Dominic Jermey, also announced that a British parliamentary delegation was due to arrive in the UAE at the weekend on a four-day visit. "The multiparty group will be arriving after an invitation was extended by the UAE Government to visit the country and see the developments themselves," he said.
That delegation arrived yesterday. The group, comprising a total of nine members of parliament from the main two British political parties, is on a four-day fact-finding visit see the "realities of life in the United Arab Emirates" and develop the nations' bilateral relations, according to Wam, the state news agency. The politicians are to meet political and business leaders and visit Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Al Ain.
Last month, members of the British parliament had criticised Mr Cameron's relations with Arabian Gulf countries and the human-rights records of Arabian Gulf countries.
"The UAE and Britain have always had a strong relationship," said Wael Al Sayegh, a UAE national and former cultural adviser. "Britain has gone through its own domestic issues and every country has the right to make its own laws, based on its own circumstances."
* With additional reporting by Ayesha Almazroui