Virginia, US
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| Bill Foster

Chinese Visit Visas – Initiatives by the UK Government

Last month I had the privileged of speaking at the Fragomen China Corporate Client Conference in Shanghai.  As part of my preparation for the conference, I looked at the evolving attitude of the British government towards the issue of visas for Chinese nationals.

Historically Britain has been criticized by the Chinese government and UK retail and hospitality industry for imposing onerous visa requirements on Chinese nationals. Put simply, the retail and hospitality industry is worried that Britain is losing out as Chinese tourists are choosing to visit other parts of Europe where the visa regime is perceived to be easier.

Why is this important?

Inbound tourism to the UK was worth more than £26 billion to the UK economy in 2013. According to Visit Britain, Chinese visitors are already amongst the highest spenders. On average per head, spending stands at £2,688 and Chinese visitors account for almost a quarter of tourist spending in the UK. The number of Chinese tourists visiting the UK soared by 37% in the first nine months of last year, resulting in over 200,000 visitors in 2015.

So what’s changed?

Up until a few years ago, the visa system was under attack for multiple reasons. Criticism included the forms being in English, far too long and the process otherwise inconvenient. For example: only one form and one application is required to enter the 26 nation Schengen region and a separate application is then required for Chinese nationals who also seek to then enter the UK.

The UK government recognizes this is a handicap to business and has made a number of changes to facilitate the visa process by implementing various procedural changes and programmes. These include:

  • Chinese tour operators are now able to use the “Schengen” form, a single application form accepted by 22 out of the 28 EU member states;
  • As from 2016, a new two-year visa is available to Chinese nationals. This enables visitors from China to make multiple trips to the UK for longer periods;
  • The UK is also discussing the potential to expand the existing network of Visa Application Centres in China;
  • An on-demand mobile visa service is being extended in the country as well as the launch of a new online form, with fewer questions and translated guidance.
  • The UK and the Belgium governments have created a pilot scheme (The UK-Belgian Visitor Service) that allows Chinese visitors to make their UK and Schengen visa applications at a UK Visa Application Centre, with a single set of accompanying documents.  This assumes Belgium is the primary destination country within Schengen;
  • Visit Britain has created The Great China Welcome Charter that helps Chinese visitors easily identify hotels, attractions, retailers and tour operators that are making themselves ‘China-ready’.
 
Are the British doing enough?
 
It’s clear the British Government are focused on this issue and the changes to-date are all positive and are to be applauded as facilitating Chinese visitors to the UK. There will no doubt be further initiatives to streamline the visa regime for Chinese nationals all of which will make a difference.

Prepared and research with the support of James Rai (Fragomen London).

If you have questions or would like to know more, contact Bill