By Andy Sambidge
Passport holders from three Gulf nations will be able to visit UK for up to six month using electronic visa waiver from Jan 1
Passport holders of the UAE, Oman and Qatar will be able to visit the UK for up to six months using an electronic visa waiver (EVW) from January 1.
The EVW, which can be created online, offers a free, fast and simple alternative to a visit visa, the UK's Border Agency said in a statement. There are also plans to expand the visa to Kuwait later next year.
From Monday, applicants from the three countries can download an EVW using visa applications system Visa4UK. It can be used for travel to the UK on or after January 1 2014.
The EVW must be completed at least 48 hours before travelling to the UK. However, those coming to the UK to work or study will still need to apply for visas in the normal way.
The new electronic visa will significantly shorten the process for Gulf nationals to obtain a UK visa and it is hoped encourage more visitors from the region who are already amongst the highest spending foreign tourists to come to Britain's high streets.
The new system is a reversal to previous policy, which had made it tougher for Gulf Arabs to visit the UK and required many to visit local embassies in person, a process that had been widely criticised and unpopular in the region.
The change follows increases in tourists and business visitors from these countries in the past year, with a 29 percent rise in visit visas issued to nationals from the Middle East. Globally, visit visas to the UK have increased by 15 percent.
Home Secretary Theresa May said: "The Electronic Visa Waiver scheme is another example of how UK Visas and Immigration is innovating in order to serve the needs of its customers and ensure Britain succeeds in the global race.
"Britain is open for business and genuine visitors and tourists coming here to enjoy our world class attractions, study or do business are always welcome.
"The government keeps visa regimes under constant review to ensure that they are aligned to risk. Our reforms are working and immigration continues to fall."