Immigration minister Mark Harper MP has struck a blow to the retail sector by ruling out adopting the same visa as Europe which would make it easier for lucrative Chinese shoppers to come to the UK.
Most Chinese visitors to Europe use a Schengen visa which allows them to access 26 European countries. However if they want to visit the UK, they need to obtain a separate UK visa. In 2011, one million Schengen visas were issued compared to 205,000 UK visas.
Harper said: “The UK is not going to give up our border control.”
However, the minister has vowed to work with Chinese tour operators to simplify the UK visa application for large groups of tourists.
Harper also told a UK China Visa Alliance (UKCVA) event on Wednesday that the Home Office was rolling out a mobile visa service – whereby processing officials come to the applicant’s home – to China after a successful trial in the Middle East.
The service, which is targeted at high net worth individuals, will save Chinese applicants trekking to one of the 12 visa processing centres in the country.
The Home Office is seeking to work with UK retailers to promote its longer term visa, which allows multiple entries into the country over a five year period, to Chinese customers.
The UKCVA estimates that Britain misses out on around £1.2bn of spending from Chinese tourists because it underperforms in attracting them.
Mark Henderson, chairman of Saville Row tailor Gieves and Hawkes and a board member of luxury group Walpole, said: “Chinese visitors spend three times as much as [other] overseas visitors. We’re getting nothing like a big enough piece of the cake.”