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Visa applications to be simplified for Chinese visitors

Measures to simplify the visa application process for visitors from China have been announced by the Government.

A priority market

The Government is focusing on China as a priority market for tourism and business, and is keen to encourage more Chinese nationals to visit the UK. China already features highly in the number of overseas visitors coming to the UK, with figures showing that 210,000 visas were issued to visitors from China in 2012. These visitors subsequently contributed around £300 million to the British economy, which explains in part why the Government is looking to encourage even more residents of China to travel here.

There are a number of significant links already in place between the two countries, with many Chinese students choosing to come to the UK to study. The UK is also apparently the number one destination for Chinese investment in Europe, and attracted around £2 billion in investment in the last year alone.

Key measures

The measures set out by the Government to increase the level of tourism and business investment from China consist of three key steps:

  • A new pilot scheme to enable certain Chinese travel agents to use the EU’s Schengen visa form when applying for UK visas, rather than submitting two separate application forms as they are currently required to do. According to the Government, this will make it easier and reduce duplication for travel agents who are taking Chinese tourists to visit both the UK and the Schengen area.
  • Introducing a new 24 hour ‘super priority’ visa service that is expected to be operational by summer 2014.
  • Looking at the possibility of expanding the VIP mobile visa service that is currently in operation in Beijing and Shanghai to the whole country. This service, which has proved to be a success in these two locations, enables visa teams to go to applicants to collect their completed forms and biometric data, with the whole process taking less than five minutes.

“These changes will streamline and simplify the visa application process for Chinese visitors, while ensuring the system is strong and secure. This is good news for British business and tourism,” commented Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne.

Competitive service

According to the Government, the UK already offers a competitive service to Chinese visa applicants, including 12 visa application centres across China and an optional 5-day priority visa service for eligible tourists, business visitors and skilled workers. In addition, the current system offers:

  • Guides on the visa application process in Chinese for business visitors, independent travellers and Approved Destination Status travellers.
  • A Prime Time service in six of Britain’s Visa Application Centres, offering extended opening hours for those who need the convenience of an appointment outside of usual business hours.

The system also appears to be working efficiently, with 96% of Chinese visa applications to the UK being approved and (non-settlement) visas processed on average in less than seven days in the first half of 2013.

Proposals welcomed

The Government’s proposals to streamline visa applications from China have been generally welcomed by business groups in the UK.

Dr Adam Marshall, Director of Policy at the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC), commented that companies would “breathe a collective sigh of relief” at the measures that would facilitate the entry of Chinese visitors.

“If these changes help attract more Chinese business and leisure visitors, they should be expanded to include other key markets where British companies are working hard to develop two-way trade. A responsive visa system is crucial to demonstrating that the UK is open to trade and investment,” he added.

The CBI was equally positive in its response, with its director-general, John Cridland, commenting that the changes should give a boost to all sectors of UK business.

Contains public sector information licensed under the Open Government Licence v2.0.

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