x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

EU debates visa-free travel for UAE citizens

Visa waiver is time-consuming administrative process, but European officials say economic benefits to EU countries are persuasive.

DUBAI // European Union member states are considering granting UAE citizens visa-free entry to the Schengen Area.

A decision in favour would allow Emiratis unrestricted travel throughout Europe for the first time.

Debate over whether to move the UAE from the EU's "negative list" of countries whose nationals require visas to its "positive list" has been continuing since November last year.

Sixteen small island nations in the Caribbean and Pacific regions were also nominated for consideration by the European Commission. A suggestion to transfer the UAE to the visa-free list was accepted by all but four EU member states.

Some member states proposed to the European Commission the exemption for the UAE, but Austria, Germany and Belgium have opposed the proposal, an EU official said. To remove a country from the negative list, all 27 member states must agree.

"A visa waiver process is very painstaking administratively," another EU official said. "At the end of the day, it's not just the member states who decide but the Commission and the European Parliament, and this normally takes time.

"I would hope for it to happen this year because if we are able to fight side by side against the Taliban and secure each other, I think we can give visa-free entry to your pilots, to students and businessmen at least."

If a decision is not made this year, the next revision of the lists in 2014, will "certainly provide the opportunity to consider the possible abolition of the visa requirement for UAE citizens", the EU's directorate general for home affairs said.

"Future revisions of the lists will … also take into account the possible economic benefits for the EU of granting visa-free status to non-EU countries," its statement read.

The move would complement a possible British government decision to ease visa restrictions for Emiratis, which senior foreign policy adviser Simon Fraser said was under consideration last year.

If the vote goes through it will be a huge relief for Umm Ahmad and her family.

"A few times we've had to cancel or delay our summer plans because one or two members of the family couldn't get their visa in time," she said.

Her family holidays in Europe almost every summer. "We travel as a big group, sometimes up to 25 people, so you can imagine just how big an issue it is to plan the trip. If the law is passed it will give us much more flexibility with our travel plans."

Mohammed Mubarak Obaid said he understood the need for the visa.

"From those countries' perspectives I understand because it is a matter of security, and as I work in the security field I would understand why they would want background checks," said the 32-year-old aviation security inspector at Dubai Civil Aviation, who usually travels to visa-free countries such as Thailand and Malaysia to avoid the trouble.

"It would not only be good for us but also good for them if they put us on the list as their economies would benefit a lot. Look how much Thailand's economy is benefiting from Emirati visitors."

Jasem Al Neaimi said his family wasted between Dh5,000 and Dh7,000 on visas every time they travelled. "Wouldn't it be better if we spent that money there, to help boost their economy?"


* Additional reporting by Mohammed Al Khan and Thamer Al Subaihi


* This story has been corrected since it was first published to clarify the position of The Netherlands government, which says it does support the proposal, contrary to what an EU official said.