This year, more than 40,000 Qataris are expected to apply for a visa to visit the UK – some 7,000 more people than last year.
The unprecedented demand has prompted the embassy here to re-think the way visas are issued in Doha, and “positive changes” are on the way, the new British Ambassador to Qatar, Nicholas Hopton, has told Doha News:
“I expect to be able to announce very positive changes to the service in the coming month. Part of it will be about the flexibility of issuing visas, making it easier for Qataris to apply.
We need to recognise that the pressures on the visa issuing system are intensifying – there’s been an exponential increase in the number of Qataris asking for visas.”
He added that the change was “likely to include an online element,” but gave no further specific details. Hopton, who was previously in Yemen and appointed to the Qatar post in late July, is picking up where his predecessor left off in terms of dealing with complaints from locals about applying for UK visas.
In the past, Qatari nationals have lamented that the process of obtaining a visa to visit or study in the UK, which requires in-person interviews, is too slow and expensive.
Normal visa applications take around three weeks. The embassy runs an express service for visas, and for an additional 564QR, most applicants are able to receive their visas within two days.
Locals have also pointed to a perceived unfairness over un-reciprocated rules, because British citizens are granted a visa on arrival in Qatar, but Qatari citizens wishing to visit the UK are required to apply for a visa in advance.
Hopton told Doha News that while the establishment of a visa-on-arrival system for Qataris visiting the UK was unlikely, the existing service in Doha will be reformed.
“We need to ensure that when Qataris go to the visa application centre, that the facility is as you would expect from a country such as the UK. It needs to provide the best possible service, and I’m confident that we will be able to achieve that in the coming months.”
According to Hopton, visa applications are typically processed within 15 days, and often in just a few days, though he acknowledged that the system becomes overloaded during busy periods such as Eid and before the summer holidays.
When questioned about why the UK feels it is necessary to assess Qatari applications for visas, Hopton replied:
“For the same reason as a lot of other countries have visa regimes. Countries these days need to know who’s coming in and out of their territory.”
Editor’s note: British Ambassador to Qatar Nicholas Hopton was erroneously referred to as Nicholas Hopkins in the initial version of this story. That has been corrected.