Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne has announced the introduction of a new pilot scheme allowing selected Chinese travel agents to apply for UK visas by submitting the EU’s Schengen visa form, rather than the two separate applications currently required.
A new 24-hour "super priority" visa service will be available from summer next year, while the government is also looking at expanding a VIP mobile visa service, currently operating in Beijing and Shanghai, to the whole country. This service enables visa teams to go to applicants to collect their completed forms and biometric data, with the process taking less than five minutes.
Michael Hirst, chair of sector umbrella body the BVEP, welcomed the move to dual processing. He said: "It should certainly make visiting the UK much easier for Chinese visitors because the barrier of having to make a second application in addition to the European application goes away."
He said the announcement was good news on top of recent changes regarding immigration procedures for business travellers. The BVEP is still calling for special events visas for events attracting more than 2,000 overseas delegates.
Hirst said: "I think the government now fully appreciates it has to stimulate trade, and to stimulate trade we need international business visitors and leisure travellers to be able to easily access the UK, and I think the message is being heard and action is coming."
Osborne said his announcement was "good news for China and Britain". He added: "We are simplifying what people need to do to get a visa, while still maintaining the security of our borders. Visitors from China can continue to have confidence that the UK remains open for business and leisure."
The government issued 210,000 visas to visiting Chinese nationals, who contributed around £300m to the British economy, in 2012.
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