Peter Aldous highlights importance of speeding up the visitor visa application process for Chinese visitors

Waveney MP Peter Aldous yesterday asked the Home Secretary about speeding up clearance and entry for Chinese business visitors, tourists and investors who are a vital means of boosting the economy by creating jobs, encouraging foreign investment and increasing international trade.

The Chinese inbound visitor market to Britain is currently small but growing. Only around 150,000 Chinese tourists visited our shores last year, a figure that is way down on that of our major competitors such as Germany and France who have between 25 and 50% more Chinese visitors than the UK.

Mr Aldous believes that Suffolk is an ideal destination for Chinese visitors in that the county enjoys a rich heritage that appeals to international visitors and there are significant investment opportunities, particularly in the energy sector.

Following a key visit by a Chinese delegation of world-leading manufacturers of wind farm equipment, a joint initiative by Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex counties was established to work with China to create more jobs by making new export and inward investment opportunities. Investors from the Jiangsu Province are seeking both to invest in the East Anglian offshore wind sector and search for opportunities for UK businesses to support development projects in China.

Although the UK has created the world’s biggest market for technologies such as offshore renewables with the country now seen as a major catalyst for growth within the sector, there remains the need to export such expertise on foreign markets, as well as maximize from foreign investment.

This is largely due to the fact that the UK is often omitted from European Holiday itineraries, which has limited the level of growth that it is experiencing compared to other European countries.

For instance, visitors from China in many cases travel as part of a group tour whereby Tour Operators manage all arrangements from booking airline seats, hotel rooms, local sightseeing and Visas. Tours to Europe are also common place and Tour Operators will include other countries such as France, Germany and Italy in itineraries. Given that the UK is outside the Schengen Visa area, constructing tours that include the UK and mainland Europe is more difficult and adds significant cost to the total package price.

Mr Aldous welcomes the Home Office’s speeding up of the Visa application process and the creation of ‘preferred or fast track visitor’ facilities in China. However, these are mostly for individual business travellers and tourists are generally not able to access such a service.

Although Chinese visitors to the UK reached 150,000 last year, spending £240 million, experts believe that many more would visit if the visa system was simplified.

Mr Aldous commented:

“China is undoubtedly a hugely important market for tourism and investment in the offshore energy sector.

The coast, the market towns and landscape in the Waveney Valley are what many overseas visitors imagine England is all about.

We should take advantage of this and encourage Chinese visitors, which will in turn boost jobs, trade, investment and growth in the local economy.”

John Dugmore, Chief Executive of Suffolk Chamber of Commerce, said:

"Businesses will be encouraged that Peter has raised what is an important matter at the highest level with the Home Secretary.

The current economic environment means that firms are working harder than ever. Those that import and export in Suffolk need to know the system is working for them not against them."

The Chinese market has great potential for business in our county and therefore we welcome the Home Secretary's commitment to ensuring those coming here to do business are able to do so under programmes like the priority scheme. Suffolk and the UK is open for business and we look forward to doing more global business over the year ahead."

Keith Brown, Chief Executive of Visit East Anglia, added:

“We warmly welcome the Government’s recognition that the inbound Chinese visitor market is an important one and that through Visit Britain, it is investing funds to promote Britain and Suffolk to this important emerging market.

However, we believe the most significant barriers to growth include the cost burdens of providing individual visas to Chinese tourists and the UK’s non participation in the Schengen Visa programme.”

FULL TEXT:

Peter Aldous (Waveney) (Con): What steps her Department is taking through the visa system to enable business and tourist visitors to contribute to economic growth. [128823]

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mrs Theresa May): The UK Border Agency supports economic growth through delivering an effective visa service, which processed almost 2 million applications for visitor visas in 2011, and exceeding our public commitment to process 90% of cases within 15 working days. We take our economic responsibilities seriously and the UK Border Agency is constantly looking to improve the service it offers. Amongst other measures, it has launched priority services, such as providing a five-day visa service, premium lounges for high-value customers and out-of-hours appointments at visa application centres.

Peter Aldous: What steps is my right hon. Friend taking to speed up clearance and entry for Chinese business visitors, tourists and investors who have been identified by Visit East Anglia, Suffolk chamber of commerce and chambers of commerce across the UK as a vital means of growing international trade and export markets?

Mrs May: I thank my hon. Friend for highlighting the issue of Chinese visitors to the UK. That is an important market for the UK and I am pleased to say that we have seen some strong growth in the number of Chinese visitors to the UK for both business and tourism. It is one of our priority markets, so we have undertaken a number of changes to our system. Half our Chinese business customers, for example, now benefit from access to a priority scheme. We have opened new expanded visa application centres in a number of cities, but we will continue to look at what we do to ensure that our clear message is that Britain is open for business and has a functioning visa system that ensures that those whom we wish to welcome to the UK can come.

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