x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

First Emiratis approved for visa-free travel to UK

The first Emiratis to sign up for visa-free travel to the UK in 2014 have received approval.

ABU DHABI // The first Emiratis to apply for visa-free travel to the UK have been given the green light.

The British embassy’s website for the electronic visa-waiver scheme has gone live and nationals can fly from the new year.

“It’s the first time the UK has done this anywhere, so it is something we have been learning about,” said Dominic Jermey, the British ambassador to the UAE.

“We’ve taken it forward in this country and in two other countries but it is very new for us.

“We are doing it to facilitate travel in the UK and UAE and vice versa.”

The visa-waiver scheme, which allows for travel from January 1, is expected to lead to more Emiratis visiting the UK.

“We have received some applicants as of last night and they already received the document now,” said Matt Heath, regional director of the Middle East and Pakistan UK Visas and Immigration.

The new electronic visa waiver will be free, and can be obtained up to 48 hours before departure.

It replaces the existing time-consuming system of providing biometric information, booking an appointment at a visa application centre and handing over your passport.

“It’s intended to be an extra option for people that just makes it that much more convenient,” Mr Jermey said.

“Many people who decide that they just want to pop across to the UK for the weekend to do shopping will fill in this form 48 hours before they fly, turn up at the airport ... and they won’t need a visa.

“For that spontaneous type of activity or if you’re going on a family holiday, this is easier for you to do this than to get the visa.”

Emiratis must create an account on the website and provide their details, in English or Arabic.

“Those details must exactly match the details in the passport,” Mr Heath said. “You provide your contact details, nationality and, once done, you’re ready to apply.”

The system will automatically recognise that the applicant is an Emirati and eligible for the electronic waiver.

“You just provide details of your travel, port of departure, time and date, plane number, time and date of arrival, port of arrival in the UK and the intended date of departure,” Mr Heath said.

“The system then generates a paper for the electronic visa-waiver. You can print it and it will be emailed to you as a PDF.”

Travellers will be required to take the print-out to the airport.

“The next time, you can log back in, click ‘yes I want a visa waiver’ and you’ll receive another document,” he said.

The scheme will run in the UAE, Oman, Qatar and Kuwait next year and could lead to document-free travel for Emiratis.

“We need to see how this one works next year, we keep it under constant review,” Mr Jermey said. “Nothing can be excluded but nothing can be indicated at this stage.”

The UAE’s effective lobbying could also result in visa-free travel to the European Union.

“It would be very interesting to see how others react,” Mr Jermey said. “The UAE has mounted a really effective campaign and they clearly have an impact through putting up the arguments they’ve put up and the lobbying, so fingers crossed they are as successful in other areas of lobbying as they’ve been with us on this one.”

Last year, more than 30,000 UK visas were issued in the UAE and 530,000 visitors from the GCC went to Britain, an increas of 6 per cent from 2011.

To apply for the scheme, visit www.visa4uk.fco.gov.uk

cmalek@thenational.ae