Businesses raise concerns about UK visas
08 April 2014
According to an article in The Telegraph, UK businesses have raised the concern that the UK could continue to lose out on a significant boost to its tourism income, as well as business opportunities, if it does not do more to welcome visa applications from high-spending visitors from countries such as China, South Africa and Saudi Arabia.
At present, the European Commission (EC) is looking to speed up and simplify the application process for Schengen visas. These visas allow nationals from certain countries to apply for one common visa that allows travel between the 26 nations that are part of the Schengen agreement.
The proposed changes include making the application form simpler, allowing online applications and reducing the maximum time to process a Schengen visa from 15 days down to ten. The EC hopes that these changes will encourage more trips to countries in the Schengen Area. The organisation is anticipating that the changes could result in an extra £108 billion income for the Schengen countries over the next five years, as well as an additional 1.3 million jobs.
Unfortunately, the UK is not a member of the Schengen Area. As a result, businesses are worried that wealthy tourists will travel to one of the 26 member countries instead, spending their money elsewhere. They are also concerned that businesspeople will do the same, preventing profitable business deals from being formed between businesses in the UK and those in other countries.
Visitors from China, who can apply for Schengen visas, are now the highest spending tourists in the world (according to UN World Tourism Organisation statistics). Interestingly, 82% of Chinese visitors to Europe apply for a Schengen visa. Consequently, UK businesses have called for the UK’s visa rules for countries such as China to be updated to encourage more visitors.
A spokesperson for International Airlines Group (the parent company of British Airways) commented: "Europe is opening its doors to high spending Chinese visitors. Our European competitors understand that they bring wealth and investment. While the UK claims to be ‘open for business’ it makes it very hard and expensive for the Chinese to do business here. This is costing us jobs and growth."
Simon Vincent, the president of Hilton Hotels’ division for Europe, the Middle East and Africa, said: "It’s vital that Britain can compete with the Schengen countries for overseas visitors and this announcement underpins yet again why improvements to the UK visa system are so important. These need to be driven through quickly and effectively so that the UK does not lose valuable tourism business in a sector worth well in excess of £100bn per year."
While a pilot programme is in place that allows Chinese travel agents to apply for a UK visa through the Schengen application process, this is quite a limited scheme. Tourists from China and elsewhere may still look to travel to competitor countries in Europe instead.
Read the full Telegraph article here