UK Home Secretary, Theresa May, hopes to boost the number of Chinese visitors coming to Britain by introducing a new UK visa scheme. The scheme will enable Chinese nationals, for the first time ever, to apply for European and UK visas in a single process.
"It will eliminate the need for Chinese tourists and entrepreneurs to wade through masses of additional paperwork in order to get a European visa while planning a trip to the UK," said the Home Secretary.
Additionally, successful applicants will be permitted to travel freely across the European Union's, 26-nation Schengen zone. Of the 26 nations who are signatories tothe Schengen agreement, 22 are part of the European Union, while the other four are part of the European Fair Trade Association (EFTA)
Business groups have long called for such a change, claiming that additional paperwork created by separate application processes has resulted in fewer Chinese tourists and entrepreneurs coming to the UK. However, data shows that up to March, 2015, there had been a 10 per cent rise in the number of business and tourist visas being issued to Chinese nationals.
Announcing the new UK visa system, Theresa May said: "These reforms provide a one-stop shop for Chinese visitors coming to the UK or Europe, whether that's for business or leisure."
The new scheme, which will be piloted in the UK and Belgium initially, begins on July 1, 2015. The UK government hopes that it will result in millions of pounds of additional revenue for London and Britain as a whole.
How the scheme will work
Chinese visitors will be able to lodge an application online for a British and Belgian visa simultaneously, with a single set of supporting documents. They then book a single appointment at one of the UK's visa centres located in Beijing, Guangzhou or Shanghai in order to complete the process. The Belgian visa permits holders to travel freely throughout any Schengen area.
Chairman of the UK China Visa Alliance, Andrew Murphy, said: "The UK must present, as much as possible, a one-stop shop for Chinese visitors who seek a Schengen and UK visa. This pilot, combined with the shared application form, works towards delivering this."
The latest reforms to the UK visa system for Chinese visitors come after a number of earlier schemes to simplify the process, including the 'super priority' and mobile visa services.
The impact of Chinese visitors
According to recent research published by travel shopping company, Global Blue, Chinese shoppers in the UK account for one-fifth of all international spending in the West End. The same research also reveals that foreign visitors to the UK have spent four per cent more in the West End so far this year, compared with the same period in 2014.
With London this month holding its status as the top-ranked international travel destination, which has been the case for five of the previous seven years, Mastercard's Global Destinations Cities Index study estimates that London will receive 18.82 million overseas visitors by the end of 2015, which is just ahead of Bangkok.