Osbourne repeats calls for easier UK visa access

09 Oct 2012 | Posted by Carl Thomas

George Osbourne has rolled out the line that access to UK visas needs to be competitive to ensure that the economy does not lose out on business to Europe.

The chancellor has urged the Home Office to make UK visas more accessible to high-spending Chinese tourists in particular, who have been shown to be visiting European capitals such as Paris and Berlin in favour of London.

Statistics show that around 80 per cent of Chinese tourists visiting Europe get a Schengen visa, enabling them to visit mainland European countries, but not Britain. Just 11 per cent get a UK visa and only seven per cent opt for both.

These figures present a challenge for the government after former culture secretary Jeremy Hunt announced plans to treble the number of Chinese tourists coming to the UK by 2015.

The ambition marks the latest clash between government departments as the Home Office continues its bid to crackdown on immigration while the Treasury pushes its concern that the economy needs foreign investment to get it off the ground again.

Which department will win out remains to be seen but at the moment the government is going to have to take some drastic steps if it wants to tempt overseas visitors to the UK after its revisions of the immigration regulations have done so much to discourage foreign business.

In addition to government efforts, retailers themselves are working to encourage more business from Chinese people. John Lewis, Selfridges and Harrods are among the big companies to visit the biggest ever trade visit of its kind to China next month (November) to push for more business.

Michael Ward, managing director of Harrods, told the FT: “Now the Treasury has realised it is important, but the Home Office are not reorganising it is one of the primary issues to resolve.”