Starting early next year, the British government will launch a visa waiver program for nationals of Qatar, the UAE, Kuwait and Oman, the UK’s Prime Minister David Cameron has announced.
The move – first mentioned by new British Ambassador to Qatar Nicholas Hopton in an interview with Doha News earlier this week – will make it “cheaper and easier for business travelers and tourists to visit the UK,” the UK’s Foreign Office said in a statement.
The waiver is free of charge, and must be applied for online at least 48 hours before travel. It will be valid for visits of up to six months, but those wishing to study or work in the UK would still need to apply in person for a different visa.
The move comes in response to complaints from Qataris, many of whom have lamented that the process of obtaining a visa to visit or study in the UK, which requires in-person interviews, is too slow and expensive.
Currently, normal visa applications can take up to three weeks to process. The embassy does however run an express service, and for an additional 564QR, most applicants are able to receive their visas within two days.
London is a increasingly popular destination for Qatari nationals. More than 40,000 Qataris are expected to apply for a visa to visit the UK this year – some 7,000 more people than in 2012.
Announcing the new scheme during a speech in London on Monday, UK Prime Minister David Cameron said the move was designed to boost business relationships between the two countries.
Qatari investment has also become increasingly important to the British economy. Qatar has made several high profile purchases in recent years, including the Shard, Europe’s tallest building; the Harrods department store; and large stakes in Barclays Bank and the Sainsbury’s supermarket chain.
In anticipation of the new scheme, Hopton said in a statement:
“We look forward to welcoming even more visitors from Qatar to the country so many regard as their second home. This change will improve the service the UK offers to Qataris and responds to concerns raised with us by the Qatari Government.”