Britain is launching a drive to attract thousands more big-spending Chinese visitors by offering cut-price visas. Ministers plan to bring in hundreds of millions of pounds by making it easier for tourists and entrepreneurs to come to the UK. Relaxing the rules will entice them to spend their holidays and do business here, they believe.
Slashing the price of a two-year visa by almost 75 per cent – from £324 to £85 – will encourage more Chinese to visit the UK, it is hoped. Under a two-year pilot scheme launched next week, successful applicants will be allowed to make multiple trips to the UK and stay for up to six months at a time.
Another key part of the charm offensive will be expanding the Home Office’s mobile fingerprinting service, which captures biometrics needed for online applications, from nine to 50 Chinese cities – making it more convenient.
Chinese tourism is worth nearly £500million a year in the UK, and is one of Britain’s fastest-growing markets. In the first six months of 2015, around 93,000 holidaymakers arrived from China – an increase of 28 per cent year-on-year.
British businesses have long campaigned for the Government to get rid of red tape and reduce costs so they can more easily attract people from the economic superpowers. The cut-price visa – which will be reciprocated for UK citizens visiting China – signals closer co-operation between London and Beijing following President Xi’s controversial visit to Britain last October.
Security chiefs have warned that the Government’s obsession with doing more business with the Communist country could leave firms vulnerable to attack from hackers and spies.
But Immigration Minister James Brokenshire said: ‘The launch of this new visa enhances our excellent visa service by offering better value for money and more flexible travel for Chinese visitors, while ensuring that the UK border is protected. ‘The number of Chinese visitors to the UK is rising year-on-year and this visa will allow them to further take advantage of the opportunities the UK has to offer for both tourism and business purposes.’
In the year to September last year, the UK issued 484,065 visas in China, a 20 per cent increase on the previous year. Of these 404,084 were for visitors – a 22 per cent increase. Ministers say the new visa will be a ‘better deal’ than the standard £77 Schengen visitor visa, which allows Chinese people to apply for both a British pass and one for travel in the EU, which is limited to a maximum of 90 days.
The reforms are designed to help the UK compete better with France and Germany for deals with firms from what is now become the world’s second largest economy.
A Home Office spokesman said: ‘We are doing this to provide the best possible product for the Chinese visitor and to ensure that the UK’s visa offer is better than our competitors. ‘This will be a more convenient option for applicants and will give them greater flexibility when planning their travel to the UK.’
An estimated 100million Chinese go abroad each year, spending more than £60billion. In recent years, ministers have introduced several measures to make it easier for Chinese visitors to get visas to Britain. They include making the Schengen visa available to independent travellers as well as those in organised tour groups.
Visa applications by Chinese businessmen and tourists have also been fast-tracked within 24 hours as part of a charm offensive designed to attract billions of pounds of investment. The visa website will also have improved translated guidance on how to fill in the application, and new tablet and mobile apps will be introduced to allow travellers to apply more easily on whichever device they choose.