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UK backing visa-free Euro travel for Emiratis

Over the past year the UAE has increased its efforts to win visa-free entry to the Schengen area – a group of 26 countries in western Europe.

In February, Sheikh Abdullah Al Hamed, undersecretary at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said talks with the European Union had been going on for more than a year. While many Schengen states had expressed their support, the decision lay with the European Commission and EU parliament, he said.

Yesterday the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, told council members that the visit last month to the UK by the President, Sheikh Khalifa, had a positive effect in strengthening the relationship between the two countries.

Visa-free travel could soon be a reality, he said. “The UK said they will … push for UAE nationals during this year,” he said.

Sheikh Abdullah thanked council members for their part in lobbying the EU parliament. “We hope in the next 12 months the EU parliament looks [positively] on lifting Schengen requirements from UAE nationals,” he said.

Marwan bin Ghalita (Dubai) pointed out that it had been 12 years since the UAE granted visa-free entry to the citizens of more than 30 countries. He said the agreement also entailed reciprocity.

Mr bin Ghalita said many Emiratis had asked him what the UAE had received in return for granting such wide visa-free entry.

“A national today, for 34 countries they must go to a service provider to get a visa,” he said, “and then they have to go more than once, and they may get the visa or not.”

Sheikh Abdullah said the council’s stance on this issue was clear and was supportive of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ goals. “But there are good indications,” he said.

Sheikh Abdullah said it was possible that there would be real change by next summer, with Emiratis potentially not needing a visa to enter the UK or Schengen countries.

The ministry was also working to relax Japan’s visa process, he said, noting that visas for Japan were “very difficult” to obtain.

“There is development between us and them,” he said.

Mr bin Ghalita suggested that visa offices be headed by Emiratis so that they can deal with visa applications. Sheikh Abdullah said it was a “good idea” that he would study.