x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

UK visa-free travel top issue for Emiratis

Sheikh Khalifa state visit: Health, education and visa-free entry to the UK top the list of issues many Emiratis hope will be addressed

Ahmed Al Suwaidi says he hopes collaborations in health care and education will be discussed during Sheikh Khalifa's visit. Christopher Pike / The National
Ahmed Al Suwaidi says he hopes collaborations in health care and education will be discussed during Sheikh Khalifa's visit. Christopher Pike / The National

Health, education and visa-free entry to the UK top the list of issues many Emiratis hope will be addressed during the President’s state visit.

“The things I think they will be talking about a lot might include foreign policy, security, defence, business and probably most importantly about the visa issues we have,” says Ahlam Al Hammadi, 23, from Abu Dhabi.

More than a million British tourists come to the Emirates every year, with a visa issued free on arrival.

But the estimated 50,000 Emiratis who visit the UK each year must apply and pay for a British visa in advance.

“It has to be easier for the Emiratis to visit the UK,” says Ms Al Hammadi, a student at Zayed University.

“Having more ease for Emiratis to visit the UK will help to develop better economies and better job opportunities for the British people.”

The fascination many Emiratis have with the UK goes beyond tourism, says Ahmed Al Suwaidi, 20, who is studying for a master’s in international relations at Zayed University.

“The nature of local perception of the UK is it’s heaven, it’s the best world, it’s the developed world,” Mr Al Suwaidi says.

“Everything is good, everything is clean, everything is nice.”

He says his parents did not learn to read or write, “but they know exactly the UK royal family, and they know Diana [the late Princess of Wales]  very well and what happened to her. The country here is really linked in history to the culture of the UK.”

Mr Al Suwaidi says he hopes collaborations in health care and education will be discussed during Sheikh Khalifa’s visit.

“If you check the education programmes here in UAE, it’s rare to find a PhD programme,” he says.

“I think it’s time for the world’s leading exporter of education to start a joint venture with UAE, putting together more programmes for a PhD or higher education in general.”

Dr Maryam Al Saeed, 30, an Emirati endocrinologist in Northern Ireland, also raised the issue of health care, saying she would like to see the UK accept Emirati doctors into its training programmes.

“The UAE and the UK have a solid relationship but I think it would be great if they could improve their healthcare collaboration,” says Dr Al Saeed, from Dubai.

“Other countries such as Canada, Germany and France have had such medical-training arrangements for years, which have benefited many doctors, even though they may have to learn a new language to qualify.

“At present, it is very difficult for Emiratis to get accredited training positions in UK hospitals as non-European Union citizens are not prioritised even if they have competitive credentials.”

Visa-free travel will be discussed during the visit, Dominic Jermey, the British ambassador to the UAE, confirmed last week.

“I travel to the UK twice a year,” Mr Al Suwaidi says.

“If you go to Al Bateen neighbourhood, everybody goes to London three or four times a year.

“We’re very good customers to them. And it’s a hassle with the visa. Why don’t we just drop it?”

But Ahmed bin Al Shaikh, 23, a student at the American University of Sharjah, has mixed feelings about visa-free travel.

“I see it as a good thing, but you know it could be a problem as well, because you have too many people going there,” Mr Al Shaikh says. “It will be too crowded.”

vnereim@thenational.ae

* With additional reporting by Mohammed Al Khan