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Britain to ease China visa restrictions


Britain's Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne (C), and Mayor of London Boris Johnson (2nd L) walk the campus during their visit to Peking University in Beijing. Photo - Reuters

Beijing: Britain says it will make it easier for China's citizens to obtain visas, as it seeks a bigger slice of the multi-billion-dollar Chinese traveller cake.

Finance Minister George Osborne, who is in China leading a British trade delegation, promised the new measures would help the tens of thousands of Chinese visitors hoping to visit Britain.

"Have announced new measures to simplify + speed up visa applications for visitors from #China," the chancellor of the exchequer wrote on his official Twitter account.

"Good for tourism and British business," Osborne said.

Under the proposals, Chinese tourists visiting the European Union using selected travel agencies will no longer have to file a separate application to visit Britain, which is not part of the EU's "Schengen Area" for border-free travel.

Business people will also be able to apply for a "super-priority" visa, which will be processed within 24 hours rather than a week.

Osborne also said the government was looking at a nationwide rollout of its "mobile visa service", which is currently being piloted in Beijing and Shanghai.

The service — aimed at business executives — enables visa teams to go to applicants' workplaces to collect their forms and biometric data.

Some 210,000 visas were issued to Chinese nationals in 2012, adding around £300 million ($480 million, 250 million euros) to the British economy.

But analysts say Britain has missed out on benefiting from Chinese tourists' spending power, partly because of its visa rules.

According to the UN's World Tourism Organisation, China has become the world's most valuable source of tourists, with expenditure on travel abroad reaching $102 billion in 2012.

But France attracted 1.4 million tourist trips from China last year, around six times as many as Britain, Franziska Brandenburger of research firm Euromonitor International wrote in a recent note.

Among western European countries, Britain was also behind Germany, Switzerland, Austria and Spain, the company said, leaving it in sixth place.

"Currently the majority of Chinese tourists opt for other European destinations as a consequence of the visa application process," wrote Brandenburger.

"Failure to attract Chinese visitors threatens job creation and inhibits tourism receipts, particularly seeing as Europe has laid out the red carpet to Chinese consumers."

During his visit, Osborne is trying to win over a Chinese government that has rebuffed Britain due to a meeting last year between Prime Minister David Cameron and the Dalai Lama.

In a speech at Peking University on Monday, Osborne said his visit was "the next big step" in UK-Sino relations and insisted "there is no country in the West more open to investment — especially from China" than Britain.

"There are some in the West who see China growing and they are nervous," he said.

"They think of the world as a cake — and the bigger the slice that China takes, the smaller the slice that they will get.

"I totally and utterly reject this pessimistic view. If we make the whole cake bigger, then all our peoples will benefit.

"I don't want Britain to resent China's success, I want us to celebrate it. I don't want us to try to resist your economic progress, I want Britain to share in it."

At the weekend a deal between a Chinese construction group and British firms to develop a business district around Manchester airport, Britain's third busiest, was announced.

Meanwhile Energy Secretary Ed Davey said "huge progress" had been made in efforts to secure Chinese and other foreign investment in Britain's power sector, including atomic energy.

"I think it is really possible we will see massive Chinese investment, not just in nuclear but across the board," he said.

Osborne is in China with London mayor Boris Johnson, who welcomed the visa plans.

"You need to get more visas for talented Chinese people to come to the UK," Johnson told the BBC.

"When Chinese tourists come to London classically they spend very considerable sums of money — it's good news for the city.

"If it doesn't happen it's a missed opportunity and I don't want to see that business going to Paris," he added.

Chen Xiao, a life sciences student at Peking University, said the current British visa application process was "a nuisance and time consuming".

"The amount of forms needed to obtain a British visa isn't small compared to other countries," she added. "Also they require you to show proof of assets. So this is a challenge for those who come from less wealthy backgrounds."

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