New Visa Proposal Involves “Dual Processing” Of British & Schengen Applications
The rising tide of Chinese outbound tourists may be washing over destinations like France and the United States, boosting retailers, hoteliers (and even realtors), but one market that has yet to fully capitalize on this important and growing demographic is the UK. Despite widespread interest — bordering on obsession among some urban Chinese — in Britain, a protracted back-and-forth over the country’s visa policy continues to limit Chinese entries. Currently, British tourism and retail organizations estimate that the UK is losing out on some £1.2 billion (US$1.9 billion) a year from Chinese tourists who travel elsewhere due to visa red tape. As a report from the UK tourism agency VisitBritain recently pointed out, 61 percent of Chinese tourists who decided not to travel to the UK did so because they were frustrated by the visa process.
Though VisitBritain predicts a 113 percent total increase in the number of Chinese travelers (excluding Hong Kong) over the next eight years — owing more to the fact that outbound travel is growing as a whole — and expects the UK to bring in around 300,000 Chinese tourists by 2020, the fewer than 110,000 trips by Chinese tourists to the UK in 2011 is a drop in the bucket compared to the more than one million who visited Paris.
In an effort to bring in more Europe-bound Chinese tourists, the UK is now mulling over a new plan to streamline its visa application process. According to China Daily, this week a proposal was submitted to the UK Border Agency involving an idea for “dual processing” of British and Schengen applications (the latter of which is valid for travel to the 26 European countries that have signed the Schengen visa agreement). So far, owing to national security concerns, Britain has not made moves to join the Schengen system. As part of the new visa proposal, Chinese applicants would only have to submit a single form to receive both UK and Schengen visas.
As Julia Carrick, chief executive of Walpole British Luxury, said this week, “The new visa plan is very necessary. The applications will still be processed twice, ensuring that the UK border regime is still strong, but two visas will be issued at the same time.”
Despite Carrick’s optimism, it’s unlikely that any changes to the UK’s visa policy will take effect in the short term. As Andrew Osborne, a partner at the UK law firm Lewis Silkin, told China Daily, “The changes being asked for are particularly significant ones…The UK government wants to be assured that people coming here on tourist visas will eventually leave, but once they are in the UK it is difficult to monitor them. So it is easier to check people before they come to the UK.” Osborne added that the “dual processing” visa system would in effect pull the UK closer to the Schengen system, a development that Britain has been keen to avoid.
What we are more likely to see in the short to medium-term, however, is more easily enacted changes to the visa process in Britain, among them forms that can be filled out in Chinese and a more efficient system of processing applications.