Come on in, Britain tells Chinese visitors as it eases visa rules

Britain to ease visa rules in a bid to scoop up larger pile of big-spending mainlanders' cash

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 15 October, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 16 October, 2013, 5:10pm

Britain will make it easier for Chinese citizens to obtain visas, as it seeks a bigger share of the multibillion-dollar Chinese traveller market against stiff European competition.

Finance Minister George Osborne, who is in China leading a British trade delegation, promised the measures would help tens of thousands of Chinese visitors hoping to visit Britain.

Chinese tourists visiting the European Union using selected travel agencies will no longer have to file a separate application to visit Britain, which is not part of the EU's "Schengen Area" for border-free travel. Business people will be able to apply for a "super-priority" visa, which will be processed within 24 hours rather than a week.

About 210,000 visas were issued to Chinese nationals last year, adding an estimate £300 million (HK$3.7 billion) to the British economy.

Peking University student Chen Xiao said the British visa application process was "a nuisance and time consuming".

"The amount of forms needed to obtain a British visa isn't small compared to other countries," she added. "Also, they require you to show proof of assets. So this is a challenge for those who come from less wealthy backgrounds."

Analysts say Britain has missed out on Chinese tourists' spending power, partly because of its visa rules.

According to the UN's World Tourism Organisation, China has become the world's most valuable source of tourists, with expenditure on overseas travel reaching US$102 billion last year.

Among western European countries, Britain comes behind France, Germany, Switzerland, Austria and Spain when it comes to Chinese visitors.

Osborne is trying to win over a Chinese government that has rebuffed Britain due to a meeting last year between Prime Minister David Cameron and the Dalai Lama.

In a speech at Peking University, Osborne insisted "there is no country in the West more open to investment - especially from China" - than Britain.

"There are some in the West who see China growing and they are nervous," he said. "I don't want Britain to resent China's success, I want us to celebrate it. I don't want us to try to resist your economic progress, I want Britain to share in it."

Osborne is in China with London mayor Boris Johnson.

"When Chinese tourists come to London, classically they spend [a lot] - it's good news for the city," Johnson said. "If it doesn't happen it's a missed opportunity and I don't want to see that business going to Paris."

Foreign Ministry spokeswoman welcomed the changes. "We see this as a positive development," she said.