The UAE unveiled its first multi-entry five-year tourist visa during the first Cabinet meeting of the year.
On Monday, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai, said the visa would allow tourists multiple entries into the country over five years. It is not clear if there will be a visa application fee and no other details have yet been released.
At present, tourists can visit the UAE with a free multiple entry visa for up to 90 days, from the date of entry.
Sheikh Mohammed said the visa, which will be introduced within the next four months, aims to establish the UAE as a "major global tourism destination" and is part of wider plans to prepare the country for the next 50 years of development.
The Emirates currently welcomes about 21 million visitors each year, he said.
"The year 2020 will be different because it is the year of preparation for the next 50, the year in which we design the future of the Emirates," he added on Twitter.
Dubai did not hit its target to attract 20 million visitors by 2020, despite a strong performance in boosting the number of Chinese, Omani and Filipino visitors recently. The most recent figures showed it was on course for about 16 million, having hit 12 million in the first nine months, after recording a fall in Indian, British and Russian visitors.
During the Cabinet meeting, the country's ministers reviewed last year's achievements and approved the new tourist visa. Sheikh Mohammed said the visa would be available to all nationalities.
The move is expected to provide a boost to the tourism industry and make it easier for residents to bring relatives to the country for visits.
Nitin Chivilkar, an Abu Dhabi resident from Raigad in India, said he hoped the new visa would mean his friends and family could visit him more often.
"I live with my wife and we have a resident’s visa but this is good news for my family and friends who come to visit from India," said Mr Chivilkar, an assistant chief engineer at the Nation Towers skyscraper complex.
“I have been here for 10 years and this is a big step forward. My sisters and friends usually have to reapply for a three month maximum visiting visa every time they want to come and stay,"
“It is easy to get and can be done within six days for about Dh300 but if this is a multi-entry visa for five years it is pretty good news for them."
Emirati Bader Lardhi said the new visas would mean a boost in business for his tour company, Wake Up Adventures, which at present mostly caters for European visitors.
“This will make it easier for Arab nationals and people from countries in Asia who have their families here but could not visit as easily as European tourists,” said Mr Lardhi.
“It will help us move into untapped markets because it will open up other activities they can take up when they visit family.
“Basically the UAE is becoming more welcoming in general with the special visas that have been announced like the 10-year visas. This five-year multiple entry will definitely help tourism and other industries too.”
The announcement was also welcomed by Christopher Inciong, who has lived in the UAE for 11 years, and can now easily bring his parents to visit from the Philippines.
He said they had yet to visit him because of the short-term validity of the tourist visas making their journey less cost-effective.
“I will definitely get my parents to visit now. This makes it more realistic for them to come and enjoy the UAE,” said Mr Inciong, who works in marketing at an automotive company.
“The requirements before were not easy because it depended on your position at work and your financials."
Mr Inciong’s in-laws visit the UAE once a year and he said the new visa will likely encourage them to come to the country more often.
“This will be very great for families with kids. Before, you had to plan and choose the best time of year but since the new visa is for an extended period, you have the luxury of getting grandparents here as much as they want.
"They can spend time with their grandkids and children on special occasions, birthdays, Christmas.”
It will be a boon for middle-income families, residents said.
“This will give a sense of security to families who live here because they don’t have to go through the visa application process every year,” said Davinder Singh, who works for an energy company.
His siblings visited the UAE twice over the past three years and would visit more frequently if given the opportunity.
“Indians love to travel and the best part is that Dubai is so close and it’s easy to get a visa,” he said.
"This just makes it more attractive for people from India. It will be helpful for people from the Gulf and from South East Asia. There have been so many entertainment hubs created and with more visitors, these attractions will also do well.”
Long-term multi-entry visas are the latest major change to the UAE's visa system. The changes included five-year visas for the brightest graduates and 10-year visas for business owners with significant assets in the country.
At present, visitors from some countries can secure a 30-day visa on arrival at the airport plus a 10-day grace period. This includes travellers from Britain, Ireland, Australia, China and Hong Kong, among others.
Others including European citizens from the Schengen Area can secure a 90-day visa. This includes many of the EU members, Russia, South Korea and Argentina and Brazil, among others.
Other nationalities require paid-for visas, costing for example $10 for 48-hours or $30 for 96-hours and $90 for 30 days. This includes Pakistan, India and the Philippines and others.
Who has received the UAE's golden visa so far?