Italian Ambassador to the UAE, Giorgio Starace. Image Credit: Ahmed Kutty/Gulf News

Dubai: From May 7, UAE citizens will be entitled to visit many European countries that are a part of the Schengen area without having to obtain a visa prior to travel, the Italian Ambassador to UAE said in a press statement.

The UAE is the first Arab country to be extended this facility from the European bloc.

On March 22, 2014, the EU had announced that it would allow UAE citizens to enter 13 Schengen countries without a visa.

Ambassador Starace said, “[It is] absolutely important to grant Emiratis a visa-waiver to visit the Schengen area.

“The Italian government was among the governments who from the beginning pushed for this agreement,” he said.

The ambassador said that during the Italian Presidency of the EU Council - which ended on December 31st, 2014 - “we focused on the importance of reinforcing the relations between EU and UAE.”

There are nearly 10,000 Italians living in the UAE, according to the Italian embassy in Abu-Dhabi, and the visa waiver is expected to boost the number of visitors from UAE, both nationals and expatriatesto Italy as well as to other European countries. Last year, the Italian embassy issued nearly 30,000 visas in the UAE. One-third of them were for UAE citizens and two-thirds for expatriates, Ambassador Starace said.

He highlighted the strong economic ties between the UAE and Italy. There is a “strategic partnership”, he said, between Etihad Airways, the national airline of the UAE, and Alitalia, Italy’s leading carrier.

Also, both Dubai and Milan are collaborating to promote each others’ Expo, Milan (May 1 to October 31, 2015) and Dubai in 2020.

“An Emirati Pavilion will be inaugurated at the Biennale di Venezia,” on May 7, said the Ambassaador. “UAE visitors who come to Expo Milano will have the chance to visit the most important exhibition of contemporary art in the world. This year, more than 100 works by Emirati artists are being displayed at the UAE National Pavilion.

“For Italy, finalising the visa waiver process in time for Expo Milan 2015 has been a crucial issue,” said the Ambassador. The Italian Embassy and its Consulate General have envisaged a super fast-track for UAe visisotrs wishing to obtain a Schengen visa in order to visit Expo Milan, and “we are very satisfied that less than one week after the opening of the most important event of the year in Italy, UAE visitors will be free to travel to Italy without any immigration concerns,” he added.

There are more than 150,000 EU citizens living in the UAE, while over 1.6 million EU citizens travel to the UAE every year.

The UAE hosts embassies of 22 EU member states.

The UAE is the EU’s 14th largest trade partner and the EU is the UAE’s second biggest trading partner.

Trade between the two sides reached €55 billion (Dh228.59 billion) at the beginning of 2014, according to official figures of EU.