Emirati and Gulf visitors to the UK gained a significant boost on Monday when the UK government announced the country and its GCC counterparts would be included in the first wave of eligible states to use a new electronic borders system.
The Electronic Travel Authorisation (ETA) scheme is to be introduced in 2023 as a vital part of Britain's ambition to have a fully digital border by the end of 2025.
“This move means that Gulf states will be among the first countries in the world to benefit from ETAs and visa-free travel to the UK,” said Priti Patel, the UK Home Secretary. “Our number-one priority is the security of the UK border and by launching ETAs we can ensure that everyone wishing to travel to the UK has permission to do so in advance of travel and refuse those who pose a threat.”
Mansoor Abulhoul, the UAE ambassador to London, welcomed the development. "The United Arab Emirates will be granted access in the first wave of countries in the system granting Emirati nationals for the United Kingdom, a country that they love so much and spend a lot of time in," he said. "I think this is a wonderful development. It will bring much more opportunity into the relationship."
Before the introduction of ETAs in 2023, travellers from Gulf countries can continue to use Electronic Visa Waivers which can be completed online before their visit to the UK.
The Home Office statement said the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Kuwait, Qatar and Bahrain would be shifting on to the platform. The requirements of Gulf-country citizens would then come into line with other key partners including the US and Canada.
The ETA system grants access to the country for passengers visiting or transiting in Britain who do not currently need a visa for short stays or do not hold another UK visa.
The scheme is designed to “act as an additional security measure, allowing the government to block threats from entering the UK, whilst also providing individuals with more assurance at an earlier point in time about their ability to travel”, the Home Office said.
Once granted, an ETA is valid for a number of trips over an extended period of time.