MPs have warned that strict UK visa controls could be hampering efforts to boost international business.
Reports from the Commons' public accounts committee show that growth in British exports has remained flat over the last two years. This lack of improvement means that despite funding of £420 million from the Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) and UK Trade and Investment (UKTI) last year, the UK is set to miss George Osborne's 2012 Budget target. The Chancellor had said that the country would double its export value to £1 trillion by 2020.
A statement from the committee said: “The Home Office’s measures to secure the UK’s borders, for example, through setting visa entry requirements, can discourage business travellers from other countries from visiting the UK. This potentially affects export opportunities.
“The FCO and UKTI told us that they are aware of a high level of concern in some countries about the time-consuming process of getting a UK visa.”
Margaret Hodge, who chairs the committee, urged the two departments to look into the problems with UK visa access and consider how to minimise problems faced by business travellers. She added that more could be done from the other side as well, by encouraging small and medium-sized firms to expand their markets overseas.
A spokesperson for the government said that the “ambitious” 2020 target is part of a “long-term economic plan”. The spokesperson added that work is being does to establish an “overseas business network” that will include business centres in key markets such as China, India and the UAE.