By Arab News
By Zaid Khashogji
Saudi Arabia and Bahrain nationals have been given electronic visa waiver status by the UK, the Home Office has said in a statement.
The status will be effective from June 1 and under this new amendment, all Saudi Arabian and Bahrain nationals can apply to travel to the UK for up to six months with an electronic visa waiver.
Citizens of Saudi Arabia and Bahrain can now travel to the UK without obtaining a visa provided they complete an online waiver for each visit.
With the visa waiver, Saudis will no longer have to make an appointment with a visa application centre, hand in their passport in advance of travel, or provide biometric information such as photos and fingerprints. Additionally, the waiver will cost a nominal fee in comparison to the previous visa cost of $125.
Eligible individuals can provide notification of travel with an electronic visa waiver up to three months before travel and as late as 48 hours before travel.
The British ambassador to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Neil Crompton, told Arab News in March that his government was in the process of easing entry to the UK for the local Saudi population that would eventually lead to a free visa policy, after a visit of the British prime minister to see the crown prince proved fruitful for both kingdoms.
“There was a good exchange of views between two two leaders,” Crompton told Arab News. “The British government and Saudi Arabia have been good partners for a long time.”
Johnson’s visit to the Kingdom in March reflected the UK’s long-standing commitment to Saudi Arabia, as both kingdoms move toward closer bilateral cooperation across all fields and within the framework of the Kingdom’s Vision 2030.
During their meeting, both leaders focused on enhancing bilateral relations in the fields of green energy, renewables, investment as well as begin work on a free trade agreement between the UK and GCC countries, with a deal expected to be reached within 12 months.
The leaders also signed a memorandum of understanding on the formation of the Saudi-British Strategic Partnership Council — established in 2018.
The UK and Saudi Arabia’s connection goes some way back.
King Faisal bin Abdulaziz Al Saud led the Kingdom’s first diplomatic mission to Britain as a 13-year-old prince in 1919, which saw the consolidation of Saudi-British relations. In 1945, Saudi Arabia’s founder, King Abdulaziz bin Abdulrahman Al Saud met British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and meetings between both kingdoms continue to this day.
Saudi’s make up a notable group of the tourists who visit the UK capital, London annually — consistently amongst the most visited cities in the world.
Over 100,000 Saudis flock to the UK annually, a 2020 survey by Statisa reported.
Another 2018 report published by Statista showed that 54 percent of Saudis visitors are in the UK annually on holiday, while 25 percent are visiting family and relatives, 10 percent are there on business and 11 percent comprise those studying and other miscellaneous activities.
Scholarships to the UK have been provided by Saudi Arabia for many years, and Saudi’s Ministry of Education has increased this with more types of scholarships that will allow its population additional entry points to study abroad, including to the UK.
Previously, the British government required Saudis to meet the following criteria for a standard visitor visa: a visa application form, two passport sized photos, bank statements for the last six months, confirmed reservation ticket, place of residence address and a valid passport for at least six months from the issuing date of the visa.
The Standard Visitor visa cost $125 for up to 6 months, with the earliest point of application 3 months before the intended date of travel.