The UK plans to simplify visa applications for its top international spenders, Chinese visitors, through a partnership with Belgium. This will allow travel permits for Britain and the European Schengen area countries to be processed at the same centre.
The new venture arises from complaints from UK retailers and business groups who have noted that London is missing out on high-spending Chinese visitors who are able to shop in other European fashion hotspots such as Paris, Milan and Berlin. They are able to use just one visa which covers all 26 nations in Europe’s border-free Schengen zone. Britain is not part of this European agreement and therefore is currently excluded from this zone.
The agreement between the UK and Belgium means that Chinese tourists will have the opportunity to obtain a joint visa for Britain and the Schengen area in any of the three application hubs in Beijing, Guangzhou and Shanghai.
A pilot programme will launch on 1 July where Chinese travellers will be able to attain the joint visa with just one set of supporting documents and a single visa appointment to complete the process.
Gordon Clark, Head of Commercial UK and Ireland at Global Blue, a founding member of the UK China Visa Alliance, said, "With China being the UK's largest tax free shopping tourism market, the Government must ensure it does all it can to make it as easy as possible to visit, spend, study and do business in this great country. Today's announcement is due recognition of the great work of the UKCVA and for the impact these high spending tourists have across retail, leisure and hospitality and will boost Chinese visitor numbers in the long term and help us compete with other European destinations."
Catherine Shrimpton, Head of Tourism Policy at business lobby London First said that the joint venture would eliminate the “main obstacle” that is keeping Chinese travelers from visiting the UK.
“The government’s trial of a simpler twin visa system will be particularly welcomed by tourism, retail, and hospitality sectors, and will translate into jobs and growth for the wider economy,” Shrimpton said.
“Separate European and UK visa systems have forced Chinese tourists to jump through two distinct hoops, making most travellers choose between mainland Europe or the UK, rather than visiting both” she added.