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Australia mulls visa waiver for Gulf nationals

Dubai: Australia is considering granting Gulf nationals a visa waiver, Andrew Robb, Australia’s trade and investment minister, told Gulf News on the sidelines of a press conference in Dubai on Sunday.

“We haven’t made a decision but we’re looking at all the countries that we can give visa waivers-the Gulf countries are in that group we’re looking at,” Robb said.

Currently, leisure and business travellers from the Gulf can apply for a two-year multiple entry visa online, which they can receive electronically within 48 hours.

Meanwhile, Australia is looking to extend the age of applicants of the working holiday visa, which is a temporary visa for young people who want to holiday and work in Australia for up to a year.

Robb agreed that the visa waiver would be similar to what the UK introduced last year. Under the UK waiver, nationals of some Gulf countries, including the UAE, Oman and Qatar, can travel to the UK visa-free starting from this year. Visitors will need to fill up an electronic visa waiver (EVW) application free of charge at the UK Border Agency website at least 48 hours before they are due to travel. With an EVW, there is no requirement to provide biometrics, visit a visa application centre or hand in passports prior to travel.

Australia’s tourism revenue touched A$130million last year, according to Robb. The number of visitors from the Gulf to Australia are expected to grow from 40,000 in 2013 to 50,000 this year.

Australia is looking to sign a free-trade agreement with the Gulf, which can lead to “investment advantages” for the Gulf, Robb said.

He welcomed investment from the region in a range of areas, including resources and energy, agriculture, tourism, education and health.

With the free-trade agreement, professionals of companies from the Gulf that are investing in Australia could receive a temporary visa that can last for “a couple of years,” Robb said.

Following their partnership last year, Emirates airline and Australia’s Qantas Airways together offer 98 flights per week from Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth to Dubai and over 65 destinations in the Middle East, North Africa, the UK and Europe.

There are 140 flights per week from Australia to the Gulf.