THE government is to relax the visa rules for Chinese nationals coming to Britain in a drive to boost visitor numbers from the Asian economic powerhouse, Chancellor George Osborne has announced.
Mr Osborne, who is leading a UK trade delegation to China, said that the changes will “streamline and simplify” the visa application process for tens of thousands of Chinese visitors.
The move comes amid signs of a thaw in relations with Beijing which have been in deep freeze since David Cameron met the Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, last year.
The changes will reduce the need for Chinese visitors to the European Union to submit separate visa applications for Britain, with selected Chinese travel agents able to apply for UK visas by submitting just the EU’s Schengen area visa form.
A new 24-hour “super priority” visa service will become available from summer next year, while officials are also looking at expanding a VIP mobile visa service, currently operating in Beijing and Shanghai, to the whole country.
The service involves visa teams going out to applicants to collect their completed forms and biometric data, with the whole process taking less than five minutes.
The move will be welcomed by businesses in the UK who have complained that the existing regime is discouraging high-spending Chinese visitors from coming to Britain.
In 2012, 210,000 visas were issued to visiting Chinese nationals who went on to contribute around £300 million to the British economy.
Mr Osborne said: “These changes will streamline and simplify the visa application process for Chinese visitors, while ensuring the system is strong and secure.
“This is good news for British business and tourism.”
Boris Johnson, who is also on a trade visit to China, said he was pleased the government had listened to him on simplifying the visa system for Chinese people.
The mayor of London said he would wait for the detail but praised the move as a welcome step forward.
He said: “I’m pleased that the government has listened to the many voices, mine included, who have called repeatedly for a streamlining and simplification of the Chinese visa system.
“Whilst I await the detail, it would appear the government’s announcement of a pilot scheme available through select travel agents is a welcome step forward.
“The move will hopefully encourage ever greater numbers of Chinese tourists to London.
“We should be doing everything we can to drive Chinese visitors to our capital.”
“Only today I launched the first ever Chinese language website dedicated to studying in and visiting London.
“Changes to the visa system will hopefully make getting here a good deal easier.”