Britain to simplify visa process for Chinese visitors to Europe

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 21 June, 2015, 12:57am
UPDATED : Sunday, 21 June, 2015, 12:09pm

Britain will simplify bureaucracy for Chinese tourists and business travellers, letting them apply for British and European visas in one process, the government said.

The scheme is aimed at removing a barrier that discourages many tourists from coming to Britain while touring Europe, due to the fact that they have to apply for a separate British visa as it is outside the "Schengen" area where a single visa is enough to travel to most EU countries, including France, Italy and Spain.

"This scheme will create a one-stop shop for Chinese visitors to the UK and Europe, whether they are coming here for business or leisure," Home Secretary Theresa May said in a statement.

The scheme will start on July 1.

The policy change is a victory for the British Hospitality Association (BHA), which estimates that Britain loses out on £1.2 billion (HK$14.77 billion) a year as wealthy Chinese tourists choose to visit and shop in cities such as Milan or Paris over London due to an easier visa process.

Business and leisure visitors from China can visit 26 nations with a single Schengen visa but had needed to go through a separate visa application process for Britain.

The new scheme, being run on a pilot basis in partnership with Belgium, means travellers will be able to obtain a visa for both Britain and the Schengen area at the same time and place.

Customers can apply online using one set of documents, then book a British visa appointment.

"By 2023, China will be the largest outbound tourism economy in the world so it is important that the UK makes every effort to welcome the Chinese traveller into our country," BHA chief executive Ufi Ibrahim said.

The proposal was met with some scepticism in China, where one travel agent said previous attempts to simplify the system haven't worked.

"The UK has long been the most arrogant country on visa application in Europe. Many Chinese tourists skipped the UK because they couldn't deal with the long and sophisticated process," said a manager with a travel agency in Beijing, who declined to be named because they did not want to openly challenge the British embassy.