The Home Office said the immigration services on offer were designed ‘specifically for customers who want to sit back and relax while their visa application is taken care of’ Rex
In a sign that Britain remains very much committed to improving ties with a nation criticised for its treatment of rights activists, citizens of the United Arab Emirates seeking visas to the UK can now do so in the lap of luxury.
While many human rights campaigners are banned from leaving the UAE, others wanting to organise travel to Britain can make use of a streamlined, albeit expensive, new service.
In a bid to make the visa process quick and painless, the Home Office introduced two new bespoke “platinum services” for UAE citizens.
One, which enables individuals, families and groups of employees to complete a visa application from their home or office, is an on-demand mobile biometric service. It costs a minimum of £860 per visa, but group discounts are available. It entails a “small team” travelling to the applicant’s chosen location to complete the biometric enrolment process (capturing finger scans and a photograph). It is a service wealthy Emiratis will no doubt appreciate.
The Home Office said the immigration services on offer were designed “specifically for customers who want to sit back and relax while their visa application is taken care of”.
However, Shazia Ahmed of the London-based International Campaign for Freedom in the UAE (ICFUAE) described the new service as “another display of the increasingly close relationship between the UK and the UAE”, adding that the “[UK] Government has been all too willing to ignore the human rights violations there”.
For those who do choose to come to the visa office, there is a second less expensive option. Using a chauffeur service “offering pick-up and drop-off from anywhere in Dubai”, they can make their way to the application centre and avail themselves of the “platinum lounge” at Dubai’s luxurious Wafi Mall, with its Egyptian-themed environment.
The lounge offers private booths, Wi-Fi connectivity and one-to-one assistance filling in the application. Drinks and snacks are provided.
The visa, once issued, will be delivered to the applicant’s door in three to five days, along with a “free oyster card to top up and use on London’s public transport system”. If the visa is needed more urgently there is a “super-priority visa service”.
All that is available for £450. The super service will, however, cost more.
Unveiling the new options, a global first according to the Home Office, Paul Fox, the consul general at the British embassy in Dubai, said: “I am delighted to introduce two world-leading services today that will offer the next level of luxury to our highly valued customers in the UAE.”
However, Emirati human rights activists were less enthusiastic. As Ms Ahmed of ICFUAE put it: “The irony of this new visa system is that while the British Government is easing freedom of movement for Emiratis, the UAE authorities are denying this right to their own citizens.”
Among those citizens are human rights defender Ahmed Mansoor, who is banned from travelling. In other cases exiles have been separated from family members who have been stopped from leaving the UAE.