UK Visa Complexities
Simplifying the process
UKTRF has been working closely with the Airport Operators Association (AOA) and a number of tourist and travel industry organisations to seek changes to the UK visa regime which we believe will lessen the burden of applying for a UK visa for non-EU residents, particularly for Chinese nationals, wishing to visit the UK. The propensity of Chinese consumers to spend prolifically in Britain once they are here is already well documented, and figures show that at an average of £1600 per head per visit their expenditure is at least twice that of any other visiting nation and this tendency to spend increases dramatically at the airport. Improvements were sought to a UK visa application process which was slow, complex and expensive, deterring many Chinese nationals from visiting the UK; they preferred instead to travel to the Schengen area, for which visas were cheaper and covered more countries.
Since UKTRF’s initial meeting with the Home Office in 2013, a significant number of changes have been made to the visa application process, for example:
- The network of twelve Visa Application Centres in China has been upgraded to increase capacity.
- There are faster turn-around times and appointments are now offered out of working hours.
- A 3-5 day priority service and a new Super Priority 24 hour visa service have been introduced for visa applications.
- A Passsport Pass Back service has been introduced so that customers can retain their passport while their UK visa application is being processed.
- A VIP Mobile Visa Service has been introduced for high-value travellers who like the convenience of visa staff going directly to them to collect the biometric data necessary for a visa.
- Improvements to the online application process make it simpler and more user-friendly. The process also allows those applying online to automatically generate a partially completed Schengen form at the same time as completing their UK application.
- The expansion of the on-demand Mobile Visa Service to the areas surrounding the 12 cities where the application centres are situated.
- The introduction of the British-Irish Visa Scheme which allows Chinese and Indian nationals to visit the UK and Ireland on a single visa.
Further measures to improve the visa process have recently been announced by the Prime Minister. Key among these is that, from January 2016, 2 year multiple entry visas for Chinese visitors will be reduced from £324 to £85 – the cost of a standard six month visa. He also announced that the Government is planning to reduce the cost of 10 year visas from £747 to £85, although no date has been set for this as yet.
Significantly, important changes to the UK transit regime have been introduced which mean that many more foreign passengers transiting through UK airports are able to do so without paying an additional fee. For example, Chinese and Indian travellers can now use a British-Irish Visa Scheme biometric visa as an exemption document for transit.
The Government believes that these measures will help to ensure that UK airports and airlines continue to be competitive and attract more international travellers.