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Shared visa application process will attract Chinese visitors to UK

The announcement from the Chancellor of the Exchequer, on his visit to China, of improvements to the visa application process that should make it easier for Chinese tourists to apply for UK visas alongside those for the 26 “Schengen” countries is very satisfying news after more than a year of campaigning by London First and its partners in the UK-China Visa Alliance (of which London First is the principal funder).

We have long argued that calls for the UK to join the Schengen Agreement were unrealistic but that the huge disparity between the number of Chinese visitors requesting Schengen visas and those requesting UK visas could be addressed by enabling prospective visitors to apply via a shared process. Under this, they would be required to provide their information and documents only once, with processing still being handled separately, thus ensuring that there was no relaxation in security levels.  This was the key recommendation of the UKCVA’s “Brand of Opportunity” report in May of this year and has formed the basis of discussions between London First, UKCVA and the Home Office’s new command, UK Visas and Immigration.

London First’s chief executive, Jo Valentine, comments:

“Cautious estimates are that the UK has been losing some £1.2 billion annually in lost retail sales alone as a result of Chinese tourists not including the UK in their European tour itineraries, so this is good news for the retail sector specifically but will also bring benefits in many other sectors. Today’s tourists are also often tomorrow’s business visitors and potential investors.

“Given that the new rules apply only to tourists coming to the UK through recognised tour operators, what we need to see next is a concerted promotional effort to ensure that China’s tour operators know that Britain is open for business and that it is a great destination for culture, history and outdoor activities – as well as for shopping!”

London First, along with its UKCVA campaign partners, would like to see this new measure extended to independent Chinese travellers, and will be encouraging Government to explore further ways to streamline and simplify the visa process by working more closely with our European counterparts.

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