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Britain set to ease visa rules to attract Chinese
Publication Date : 17-06-2014
Britain will further simplify visa applications for Chinese tourists and businesspeople, the UK government said on Monday.
The development came as Premier Li Keqiang was due to start a visit to Britain, with insiders saying that UK visa policy was one of the key topics on the agenda.
From the autumn, Chinese visitors will be able to use Irish visitor visas to travel to Britain, without the need for a separate UK visa and vice versa.
In addition, a pilot programme introduced last year that allows selected travel agents to use a single application form when processing UK and Schengen visa applications, will be extended to all Chinese visitors applying to travel to the UK. The British government says the extension follows positive feedback from tour operators.
The Schengen Area comprises European countries that have removed controls between their common borders. The UK and Ireland have opted out.
Figures from the British Home Office show that in 2013, UK Visas and Immigration issued about 290,000 visitor visas to Chinese nationals, up by nearly 40 per cent from 2012 and almost three times higher than in 2008.
The British government has opened 12 visa application centres across China, more than any other country, the UK Home Office said.
It also said that talks are continuing with European partners about further streamlining visa processes with Schengen arrangements to make trips to the UK easier for Chinese visitors.
Schengen visas have held far more appeal for Chinese visitors, who are able to travel to 26 countries on a single visa.
Mark Boleat, policy chairman of the City of London Corporation, said a simplified visa process means the UK will become a more attractive destination for foreign visitors and businesses.
He said London cannot afford to fall behind its main rivals in the business and financial sectors such as Luxembourg, Frankfurt and Paris.
"That's why our visa regime needs to be quickly adaptable to the realities of a fast-changing global economic landscape."
Paul Barnes, a spokesman for the lobbying body UK China Visa Alliance, said the group hopes the Home Office can reach some agreements with Schengen countries to allow parallel processing of the same application.
This would mean Chinese applicants were only expected to make one trip for visa applications, but would receive both visas. Under the current pilot program, two visa applications must be made by applicants in person.
Barnes said he hopes Britain can reach this agreement with three key Schengen countries that attract the most Chinese visitors - France, Germany and Italy.
Yan Xin, a public affairs manager at Chinese online travel agency Ctrip, said the new measures will reduce paperwork for Chinese tourists and agents. "More tourists may visit Britain and Ireland."