VFS Global office in Dubai, at Wafi Mall. Image Credit: Gulf News Archives

Abu Dhabi: The UAE was unanimously and unconditionally voted on the Schengen visa-free list by the Council of the European Union and the European Commission on Friday, said a senior official on Sunday.

“The UAE has achieved another victory towards realising a Schengen visa waiver, which will allow Emiratis visa-free travel to any of all 28 Schengen states,” Sulaiman Al Mazroui, UAE Ambassador to the European Union, told Gulf News.

Al Mazroui said the proposal to add the UAE to the Schengen visa-free list was passed unanimously and unconditionally by the permanent representatives to the European Union, but awaits final approval by the European Parliament in early January.

The ambassador said he hoped an UAE-EU agreement would be finalised in the first half of next year, whereby Emiratis would no longer require a visa for short stays (up to 90 days) in the Schengen area, whether for business, tourist or family visit purposes.

Continued efforts of UAE diplomats, indefatigably working under the chief of UAE foreign policy, Shaikh Abdullah Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, have resulted in a unanimous vote in favour of marking the country on a list of countries exempt from Schengen visa requirements.

This follows the recent vote at the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE), where the UAE was added to a list of countries in the Caribbean and Pacific oceans recommended for receiving the visa-waiver. The proposal was passed with a majority vote of 71 per cent of voting LIBE members.

If endorsed, the UAE would be the first Arab country, second in the Middle East and third among Islamic countries whose citizens receive the visa waiver, said Al Mazroui, a diplomat who has been hard at work towards abolishing the travel restrictions imposed on UAE citizens.

The trade between the 28 members of the EU states and the UAE rose in 2012 by 9.7 per cent year-on-year and hit €45.4 billion (Dh229 billion), according to the EU data.

On Monday, Britain, which is not a member of the Schengen accord, said citizens of the UAE no longer needed a visa for visits less than six months to its country.

Emiratis facing delays in obtaining Schengen visas as well as those of other countries have demanded that the UAE government stop granting visas-on-arrival to citizens of countries that fail to apply equal treatment to UAE citizens.

Shaikh Abdullah said countries that were granted a visa-free status softened their stance when the UAE imposed a visa on their diplomats. “That was an indication that the nation would impose a visa on citizens of countries [that] failed to grant the UAE equal treatment,” Shaikh Abdullah said in May.

In 2011, when the motion to waive visa restrictions was started by countries formerly colonised, the UAE moved to add itself to the complement of countries appealing for the visa waiver.

Al Mazroui lauded the pivotal role played by the ‘friends of the UAE’ group — a group of about forty EU diplomats assembled by Mazroui — at the European Parliament and the UAE ambassadors to the EU states. “Friday’s vote is a huge step towards finalising legislative requirements and moving to negotiations and subsequent waiver implementation,” he said.

The inclusion of the UAE in the list comes as a commendably quick development. In May of this year, when a member of the Federal National Council had demanded that Emiratis be granted equal treatment by the 34 countries whose citizens are granted a visa on arrival, Shaikh Abdullah Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Foreign Minister and chief of Emirati diplomacy, told the House that the next 12 months will see “positive results” regarding the proposal to exempt UAE citizens from Schengen countries and visas.

Al Mazroui said with trade connections with European countries tipping the €50 billion (Dh247 billion) point, and where 500 airline trips a week are regularly travelled, figures will most likely increase as travel restrictions are truncated.