Access to UK visas could become simpler for Chinese tourists if talks between Home Office ministers and Chinese tour operators are successful.
The Home Office department is due to begin discussions with tour companies soon in order to encourage more big spenders from Asia to come to Britain. At the moment, many are discouraged by the UK visa application process.
Immigration minister Mark Harper spoke the Financial Times about the talks: “It’s just thinking about, practically, what can we do with the tour operators to enable them to make that process for getting both [UK and Schengen] visas as straightforward as possible.
“We may not be able to get it to be perfect, but we can get it to be a lot better than it is now, which then makes us a lot more competitive.”
The Schengen visa agreement has a real impact on the number of tourists that make it to the UK. France, for example, receives at least 25 per cent more Chinese tourists each year than Britain, largely due to the fact that Asian and other overseas tourists can access France and most of continental Europe with the single Schengen visa, while they need to go through an additional set of bureaucracy to access a UK visa.
There had been talk of a joint application system to navigate around this issue. However, Mr Harper told the paper that this is looking increasingly less likely because of issues about “government IT projects and complex issues about data protection”. He added that such a system could also be problematic because it is “not obvious” that it would be in the interests of the mainland European countries.
The Home Office has made one small concession to help with visa applications from China: from next month it will start to publish visa guidance in Mandarin, although it the application form itself will still be in English due to the cost of translation.