With effect from January 2016, tourists from the People's Republic of China will be entitled to new visitor visas, which will be valid in the UK for 2 years. This will be 4 times the usual 6-month limit for a standard visitor visa. According to Prime Minister David Cameron, this will bring significant benefits to the UK economy. Additionally, the Prime Minister announced plans to introduce a new 10-year multi-entry visa for Chinese tourists at no extra cost to the applicant.
The plan is all part of the government's ambition to strengthen relations between the UK and China in order to boost UK-Sino trade and attract significant Chinese investment in the UK's flagging infrastructure, as President Xi Jinping this week receives the full ceremonial works during his state visit to Britain.
The UK mobile fingerprinting service, which captures the biometrics needed for visa applications, will become better value for Chinese visitors, both in cost and convenience as it will be extended from 9 Chinese cities to an additional 50, making it significantly easier for those wishing to apply for a UK visa. There are also discussions between the UK and Chinese governments to expand the existing UK network of 12 Visa Application Centres. This number is already more than in any other EU country. At the moment, the standard Schengen visitor visa is limited to a maximum of 90 days, therefore the changes to the Chinese visitor visas amount to a much better deal.
Currently, Chinese tourists contribute around £500 million annually to the UK economy, record numbers visit in order to take advantage of the retail opportunities and various attractions that the UK has to offer.
Chinese visit visas have almost trebled over the last 5 years, with only 115,000 in 2009 to 336,000 in 2014, meanwhile there has been a spending increase of 326%. Figures show that on average, every Chinese visitor spends £2,688 every time they visit the UK, and so there are hopes that the extension of the visitor visa will enable them to maximize their spending potential even further. There is an expectation that Beijing will establish a reciprocal arrangement for British tourists to visit China.
The long-term plan is for longer lasting visas to encourage more Chinese visitors to come to the UK, reducing the need to apply for a new visa every trip. The Prime Minister's plan also includes a wider migration channel of communication between the UK and China with respect to illegal immigration on the global scale.
The Prime Minister has expressed confidence that the changes to the Chinese visit visas will be great news for the UK tourism industry and will build on the already strong people to people links, strengthening UK and China relations further.