VISA rules for nationals from several Gulf states coming to Britain are being relaxed by the government in a drive to boost visitor numbers and encourage higher tourist spending.
The Home Office announced yesterday that short-term visitors from Oman, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates will be able to obtain a new electronic visa waiver (EVW) to travel to the UK instead of needing to make a lengthy visa application. The new rules will come into place in the New Year.
The EVW, which involves visitors completing a free online form 48 hours before travelling to Britain, will also be extended to nationals from Kuwait later next year. The news comes two months after the chancellor George Osborne’s trade trip to China, when he announced that visa rules for Chinese visitors would be simplified to encourage more investment in the UK.
Home secretary Theresa May said the EVW scheme for Gulf states would help ensure that the UK “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,” May said yesterday.
In 2012, over 146,000 visas were issued to nationals from the UAE, Qatar, Oman and Kuwait, who went on to contribute around £775m to the economy.
“Britain is a popular destination for residents of the Gulf states. Last year saw a record 37 per cent increase in the value of Gulf residents’ spending in Britain – that’s also a record average of £3,555 per visitor,” said Sandie Dawe, chief executive of the UK’s national tourism agency VisitBritain.
“If current trends continue, we are set to see another record year for Arab visitors in 2013,” he added.
The move will also be welcomed by businesses, who have complained that current visa rules restrict high-spending visitors from coming to the UK.
Figures out this week from Global Blue showed that shoppers from the Middle East, China and Russia accounted for half of all tax free spend in the UK last year, spending up to four times more than domestic shoppers on the high street.