Tue, Oct 15, 2013 - Page 6 News List

Britain to ease restrictions on visas for PRC citizens

SLICE OF THE PIE:The UK has been losing out to other European nations in attracting Chinese tourists because of its visa rules. Chinese businesspeople will also benefit

AFP, BEIJING

Britain says it will make it easier for Chinese citizens to obtain visas, as it seeks a bigger slice of the multibillion-dollar Chinese traveler cake.

British Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne, who is in China leading a trade delegation, promised the new measures would help the tens of thousands of Chinese visitors hoping to visit Britain.

“Have announced new measures to simplify + speed up visa applications for visitors from #China,” Osborne wrote on his official Twitter account.

“Good for tourism and British business,” he said.

Under the proposals, Chinese tourists visiting the EU using selected travel agencies will no longer have to file a separate application to visit Britain, which is not part of the EU’s “Schengen Area” for border-free travel.

Business people will also be able to apply for a “super-priority” visa, which will be processed within 24 hours rather than a week.

Osborne also said the government was looking at a nationwide rollout of its “mobile visa service,” which is currently being piloted in Beijing and Shanghai.

The service — aimed at business executives — enables visa teams to go to applicants’ workplaces to collect their forms and biometric data.

About 210,000 visas were issued to Chinese nationals last year, adding about £300 million (US$480 million) to the British economy.

However, analysts say Britain has missed out on benefiting from Chinese tourists’ spending power, partly because of its visa rules.

According to the UN’s World Tourism Organization, China has become the world’s most valuable source of tourists, with expenditure on travel abroad reaching US$102 billion last year.

France attracted 1.4 million tourist trips from China last year, about six times as many as Britain, Franziska Brandenburger of research firm Euromonitor International wrote in a recent note.

Among Western European countries, Britain was also behind Germany, Switzerland, Austria and Spain, the company said, leaving it in sixth place.

“Currently the majority of Chinese tourists opt for other European destinations as a consequence of the visa application process,” Brandenburger wrote.

“Failure to attract Chinese visitors threatens job creation and inhibits tourism receipts, particularly seeing as Europe has laid out the red carpet to Chinese consumers,” he wrote.

During his visit, Osborne is trying to win over Chinese officials who have previously rebuffed Britain due to a meeting last year between British Prime Minister David Cameron and the Dalai Lama.

In a speech at Peking University yesterday, Osborne said his visit was “the next big step” in UK-Sino relations and insisted “there is no country in the West more open to investment — especially from China” than Britain.

“There are some in the West who see China growing and they are nervous,” he said.

“They think of the world as a cake — and the bigger the slice that China takes, the smaller the slice that they will get,” he said.

“I totally and utterly reject this pessimistic view. If we make the whole cake bigger, then all our peoples will benefit,” he said.

“I don’t want Britain to resent China’s success, I want us to celebrate it. I don’t want us to try to resist your economic progress, I want Britain to share in it,” he said.

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