Officials pledge to ease visa process

Updated: 2012-06-27 11:07

By Zhang Haizhou in London (China Daily)

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Business leaders and tourism industry insiders in the United Kingdom have spoken out against delays and difficulties in British visa processing, despite signs of improvement ahead of the London Olympics.

They suggest that the UK government learn from other countries to make its visa application process simpler and clearer.

"We are very concerned about that, because we believe there could be a lot more Chinese visitors coming to the UK, with further enhancement and improvements in the processing of visas," said Mary Rance, chief executive of UKinbound, a trade association which represents the interests of Britain's inbound tourism sector.

Rance said there is "a lack of certainty" in terms of how long it takes to get a visa, adding it's also a problem of communicating with people and letting the applicants know how long exactly they need to wait for a UK visa.

"They don't know how long they'll have to be without their passport and documents. Obviously they don't want to be without them for an unknown period of time," Rance said.

The criticism came as the UK sent 150 extra consular staff to China in April to handle a surge in visitors due to the London Olympics and the traditionally busy summer period.

The deployment was an attempt to reduce delays after an 80 percent increase in demand for visas from Chinese tourists between 2009 and 2011. More than 200,000 visitor visas were issued to Chinese nationals last year.

The Annual Report of China Outbound Tourism Development 2012, released by the National Tourism Administration and China Tourism Academy in April, said mainland tourists made 70 million overseas trips last year, including to Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan, up 22 percent year-on-year.

The report estimates that mainland tourists will make 78 million trips to overseas destinations this year, up 12 percent from last year.

They are expected to spend $80 billion overseas this year, up from an estimated $69 billion last year.

Earlier this month, British Ambassador to China Sebastian Wood wrote to UK Home Secretary Theresa May and other senior ministers complaining that the country's visa policy had turned the UK into a "fortress" that is deterring Chinese tourists.

Wood suggested that visa application process could be speeded up further by allowing the use of photocopies of some key documents and following the US example of relaxing some requirements for repeat visitors, according to a copy of the letter published by the Evening Standard, a daily newspaper based in London, on June 6.

Since Feb 13, the new US policy that promised efficient procedures for non-immigrant visas in China shortens the application process to three weeks. Furthermore, Chinese applicants can renew visas that have expired for less than four years without further interviews.

The time saved will enable another 100,000 visas to be issued annually.

The UK Border Agency said it was "important" that the UK sent out the message that it welcomes all genuine visitors and exercises strict controls over those who seek to abuse the system, the Financial Times reported.

"Our visa application process is geared up to be as simple as possible while ensuring we keep our borders secure," a spokesman said, according to the newspaper.

"Where people are coming in a group, and they're being accounted for, and their activities are overseen, which is the case with a lot of Chinese visitors, there should be a very easy fast-track process for them," said Rance from UKinbound.