x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

US visa change is win for diplomacy

The simplification of visa procedures for Emiratis by several countries reflect the long game the UAE government has been playing behind the scenes.

When Ibn Battuta traversed the known world in the 14th century, all he needed to cross borders was a sense of adventure, a quick mind and a seemingly unshakeable self belief.

That's a simplicity many modern-day Emiratis covet. A tongue-in-cheek observation is that any modern-day Arab seeking to replicate Battuta's epic 29-year journey would need that long because of the time they would have to spend applying for visas along the way.

That's particularly iniquitous because the UAE welcomes citizens of more than 30 of the most developed nations - from Europe, Britain, the United States, Australia and, soon, Canada - by giving them a free 30-day visa on arrival.

In reverse, Emiratis usually have to apply for visas in advance, waiting up to six weeks to learn if they have been approved for travel.

Of the countries whose citizens can decide on a whim to fly to the UAE and be granted permission to stay within a few minutes of getting off the plane, just two - South Korea and New Zealand - reciprocate for Emiratis.

The good news is that those restrictions are now beginning to ease. The United States this week announced that application times would be slashed and Emiratis could have a visa as quickly as within a week. It would be valid for 10 years and good for trips of up to three months at a time.

Last month, Australia slashed application times for student visas for Emiratis from three months to 14 days and hinted that a similarly eased process will follow for all UAE citizens.

In the UK and among the 26 European nations who operate a joint visa system known as the Schengen agreement, there have been a series of positive utterances that visas on arrival for Emiratis could soon become reality.

This progress reflects the long game the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has played behind the scenes, pursuing patient diplomacy. As with Abu Dhabi becoming the global headquarters for Irena, the International Renewable Energy Agency, persistent and consistent diplomatic efforts are proving to be the model for achieving the nation's goals on the world stage. It's a lesson that other nations in the Mena area would do well to take on board.