China Visa Rules Relaxed To Boost UK Economy
Visa rules for all Chinese visitors to the UK are to be streamlined, as part of efforts to smooth ties between the two countries.
The new fast-track application service, piloted last year for tour operators, is to be extended to all Chinese nationals applying to come to the UK, the Home Office has announced.
The change means Chinese visitors to the European Union will not have to submit separate visa applications for Britain.
The move coincides with a visit to Britain by the Chinese Prime Minister for a summit at which £17bn of trade deals are expected to be signed.
In addition, a new 24-hour visa service will be available to Chinese nationals from August.
Home Secretary Theresa May said: "The number of Chinese people coming to Britain to visit and do business is soaring.
"They already enjoy a first-rate visa service and these changes will ensure it is easier than ever before to visit the UK and see first-hand everything this great country has to offer."
From autumn, Chinese visitors will be able to use an Irish visitor visa to travel to the UK without the need for a separate UK visa, and vice-versa.
The British Irish Visa Scheme will also be launched in India.
Other changes include opening 12 visa application centres across China - more than any other country - and the introduction of premium service lounges in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou visa application centres, reducing waiting times for applicants.
In 2012, some 210,000 visas were issued to visiting Chinese nationals who went on to contribute around £300m to the economy.
The changes being introduced are likely to be welcomed by businesses in the UK who have previously complained the existing visa regime had discouraged high-spending Chinese visitors from coming to Britain.
Li Keqiang's trip to the UK is his first since he became Premier last year.
The visit marks the latest diplomatic efforts to smooth over political differences which have caused tensions over the past two years, including David Cameron's 2012 meeting with the Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama.
There were two major trade missions to China last year led by Mr Cameron and Chancellor George Osborne.
China's vice-foreign minister Wang Chao told Sky News the trip was of "great significance".
"It will advance China-UK relations in a positive way," Mr Wang said.
Premier Li will hold talks with Mr Cameron and will meet the Queen.
Aware the world is watching a slowing Chinese economy, Mr Li is likely to use London as a platform to reassure investors and governments globally.
Trade between the UK and China reached £41bn in 2013.
Mr Wang said the UK is now China's third largest trading partner in European Union and has become a major destination for China's overseas investment.
He said the trip would be "fruitful...with a warm atmosphere".