By Ali Haider, Special to Gulf News

Cross-border travel has quickly become the norm for businesses around the world. As organisations are increasingly operating on a global level, freedom of mobility is now a prerequisite for employees in order to drive business growth.

In line with this, governments are also evolving their immigration policies to keep up with these changes and, interestingly, we are seeing countries take opposing stances on the matter. On one end of the spectrum, some countries are incorporating an increasingly “protectionist” immigration stance.

A good example of this is US President Donald Trump’s decisions on border control and restricting travel from certain countries. As a result, business travel to the US has significantly decreased, according to reports issued by the Global Business Travel Association (GBTA).

On the other end, some countries are taking a different approach and dissolving entry barriers. Strategic business hubs like the UAE are encouraging international business travel. In 2018 alone, the UAE extended visa-on-arrival privileges and visa-free access to nine different countries and territories.

This allows over 56 nationalities to enter the UAE for business purposes without prior approval from consular posts abroad, representing an increase of over 60 per cent over five years.

The country’s recent efforts to modernise the existing framework for Short Term Business Travel (STBT) are aimed not only at boosting business spending and tourism, but also at building a knowledge-based economy and attracting global talent. Other countries in the Gulf, including Oman and Bahrain, have made similar headway in modernising their STBT framework to permit quick and easy access for urgent business travel needs.

Immigration policies like a robust STBT framework can be a strong tool not only for governing a country’s foreign policy, but also driving both short- and long-term macroeconomic growth. This is mainly because today’s economy requires businesses to be able to quickly mobilise talent wherever needed, often without limited time to prepare or to obtain authorisation before entry.

Similarly, business travellers and entrepreneurs often value such freedom of movement quite highly as well, especially when planning for a “home-base” from where to centralise their efforts.

We have seen the region successfully evolve its immigration policies along with modern businesses and, if other countries want to stay ahead of the curve, they must do the same.

Ali Haider is Manager, Middle East & North Africa, Fragomen.