George Osborne To Relax China Visa Rules
Visa rules for Chinese nationals coming to Britain are being relaxed by the Government in a drive to boost visitor numbers.
Chancellor George Osborne, who is leading a UK trade delegation to China, said the changes will "streamline and simplify" the visa application process for tens of thousands of Chinese visitors.
He told students in Beijing: "We already have 130,000 Chinese students like you studying in Britain.
"I want more of you to come. And more Chinese visitors too.
"Let me make this clear to you and to the whole of China. There is no limit to the number of Chinese who can study in Britain.
"No limit to the number of Chinese tourists who can visit.
"No limit on the amount of business we can do together. For in the end what is a true dialogue?
"Not just a meeting between governments. Not just a conference of politicians.
"A real dialogue is where people get together, and talk, and learn, and understand and embrace the future together."
The move comes amid signs of a thaw in relations with Beijing which have been frosty since David Cameron met the Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, last year.
The changes will reduce the need for Chinese visitors to the European Union to submit separate visa applications for Britain, with selected Chinese travel agents able to apply for UK visas by submitting just the EU's Schengen area visa form.
A new 24-hour "super priority" visa service will become available from next summer, while officials are also looking at expanding a VIP mobile visa service, currently operating in Beijing and Shanghai, to the whole country.
The service involves visa teams going out to applicants to collect their completed forms and biometric data, with the whole process taking less than five minutes.
The move will be welcomed by businesses in the UK who have complained that the existing regime is discouraging high-spending Chinese visitors from coming to Britain.
In 2012, 210,000 visas were issued to visiting Chinese nationals who went on to contribute around £300m to the British economy.
Mr Osborne, speaking to Sky News from Beijing, said there was a "big difference" between people visiting Britain on holiday or for business and immigration.
He insisted it was time to change British perceptions of China from the view that it is a "big sweatshop on the banks of the river" just making cheap manufacturing goods.
"The China of today has some of the world's largest internet companies, does some of the most advanced high-tech engineering, develops some of the world's leading medicines," he said.
"This is about the future of China. China has changed dramatically even in the last few years. I think if we in Britain don't understand that and appreciate that then we will miss out.
"I want us to be part of China's success. I don't see it as a threat to us. I see it as a great opportunity because there are many millions of people we can sell British goods and services to."
Mayor of London Boris Johnson, who is also on a trade visit to China, said he was pleased the Government had listened to him on simplifying the visa system for Chinese people.
He said: "I'm pleased that the Government has listened to the many voices, mine included, who have called repeatedly for a streamlining and simplification of the Chinese visa system.
"Whilst I await the detail, it would appear the Government's announcement of a pilot scheme available through select travel agents is a welcome step forward.
"The move will hopefully encourage ever greater numbers of Chinese tourists to London.
"Only today I launched the first ever Chinese language website dedicated to studying in and visiting London. Chinese visitors now have all the information they need to access London, and changes to the visa system that will hopefully make getting here a good deal easier."