Visa applications for Chinese nationals visiting the UK are to be sped up, the Government has said, in a bid to make it easier to conduct international business and strengthen the economy.
Home Secretary Theresa May pledged to offer a “faster service” to Chinese nationals in the future, following last week’s dismantling of the controversial UK Border Agency.
While May had failed to acknowledge any problems with the system in the past, a Cabinet source told The Telegraph that the U-turn on visas was announced in a private presentation to the Cabinet last week.
The source explained: “The Home Secretary has basically backed down and agreed to sort out the problems which many people thought were threatening to hold back economic growth in this country.
“The message will go out in China that we want people to come and do business here.”
Last year, the New West End Company, which works to place London’s West End as the world’s top shopping destination, warned that the laborious visa application process was stifling retail growth in the area.
Research conducted by the firm revealed that Britain is losing £1.2 billion of tourism spending from Chinese visitors and that the figure is set to jump to £3.1 billion by 2020.
Working with retail and tourism agencies including Walpole British Luxury and London First, the New West End Company has helped found the UK China Visa Alliance (UKCVA) aimed at tackling issues surrounding visas.
Commenting on the Government’s latest move, a spokesman for the UKCVA, told Retail Gazette: “Anything that encourages Chinese visitors to come to the UK is goods news for our economy as they spend three times more in the West End than the average foreign visitor.
“We are very pleased that Theresa May recognises how important these visitors are and is committed to encouraging them to visit.
“However, we think this is not quite enough and more needs to be done.”
The spokesman warned that while speeding up the process in the UK is an important first step, tourists carrying schengen visas, which allow users to travel to most European countries on one document during a multi-country tour though not the UK, will still suffer a slowdown due to the bureaucracy involved in gaining a second visa for UK entry.
He told us: “The problem is not that it is so much more difficult to get a UK visa – which it is marginally - but that you must do so twice.
“Of all the people who travel from China to Europe in a year, 93 per cent opt to get just one visa.
“We are not attacking the Government as they have understood the problem, but the system must be more streamlined to simplify the process for getting both visas.
“We must work with other European countries to allow people to apply once for both visas and we are working closely with the Government to take the next step.
“However, we do not want to weaken the robustness of UK borders so we must come up with a structure that will enable high spending tourists to visit Britain.”