The expense and complications involved in getting a UK visa are having a detrimental impact on the state of the British economy.
This is according to research conducted by the European Tour Operators Association (ETOA), which coincided with a statement from UK immigration minister Damian Green discussing the problems with passport control at Heathrow Airport.
The extensive waiting times at Heathrow have been flagged up recently as potentially damaging for Britain's reputation within the international community, especially with the approach of the London Olympics.
However, the research from ETOA highlighted other areas of the UK immigration system that could be putting people off visiting, moving to or investing in the UK. Firstly, there is the country's refusal to join the Schengen Agreement. A UK tourist visa costs £78 and allows access to just the UK and Ireland, while the Schengen visa costs €60 and allows access to 26 countries.
Furthermore, the British application form must be completed in English and prospective visitors are required to submit fingerprints and a photograph and make themselves available for a interview at a location that could be hundreds of miles from where they leave.
In its survey of travel agents and tour operators, ETOA revealed that these complications are having a real impact on the number of visitors the UK is attracting. In fact, 26 per cent of Indian and 30 per cent of Chinese clients applying for UK visas gave up due to excessive demands imposed by the application.
Tom Jenkins, executive director of the ETOA, commented: “Images of queues at Heathrow damage the UK; they make the prospect of a visit here tiresome and unattractive. The damage done by this is major, but is short term: it can be fixed quickly.
“The damage done by our visa regime takes place thousands of miles away, where the clients are, in the origin markets. These markets, such as India, China and Indonesia, are of enormous long term importance to our strategic growth as a destination. They are being lost.”
He called upon the government to prioritise its efforts to improve the speed and experience of obtaining a UK visa due to its importance to jobs and investment.