Overcomplicated Chinese visas are costing UK businesses 1.2 billion pounds ever year

Chinese visa changes don't go far enough, say UK businesses, as BP and Shell announce billions of pounds in investment during Premier Li Keqiang's visit to Britain.

by Rachel Savage
Last Updated: 19 Aug 2014

As the red carpet is rolled out for Chinese premier Li Keqiang’s visit to the UK, the government is keen as a bean to insist that the welcome mat is being laid out for Chinese tourists too. Businesses, however, are less than impressed.

The byzantine visa regime has long been blamed for the British economy losing out on up to £1.2bn a year from high-spending Chinese tourists. Good news, then, that a pilot scheme that allows visitors applying for a Schengen visa (for entry to 26 European countries) to request one for the UK at the same time is being extended to all Chinese citizens.

A 24-hour fast track application is also being introduced and Chinese visitors with an Irish visa will now no longer need a separate British one (and vice versa).

However, Harrods’ managing director Michael Ward pointed out Americans can come to the UK for short trips without visas at all, whereas Chinese visitors have to give fingerprints to get permission.

‘Any change is welcome but this is at the borders and not substantive,’ Ward told the Telegraph.

Meanwhile, the UK China Visa Alliance, whose members include Selfridges, John Lewis and InterContinental Hotels Group, called on the government to let Chinese visitors submit the same visa forms in one place for both UK and Schengen visas, rather than forcing them to schlep between processing centres.

Chinese visitors to the UK did rise 40% to almost 292,000 last year. However, that is still pretty paltry compared to the 1.4 million Schengen visas doled out in 2013. Even after the Chinese ambassador to the UK pointed out last week that messy immigration rules are ‘eroding Britain’s strength’, it seems too much to hope that we’ll go the whole glazed duck and join the Schengen area.

Better news comes from reports that BP and Shell are set to top the bill for around £18bn worth of trade deals. BP boss Bob Dudley said he is due to sign a $20bn (£11.8bn) agreement to supply China with liquefied natural gas (LNG) – in the presence of Premier Li and all those flashbulbs, natch.

Meanwhile, Shell is expected to announce cooperation with state energy giant China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC) on LNG projects around the world.

New Chinese investment companies are also reportedly being set up in London to invest just over £1bn in everything from green energy to small businesses. Just think how much more that could be if our visa system was sorted out…

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