The Government’s immigration agency is sending out conflicting messages to foreign visitors that the UK is both open and closed for business, according to a think tank.
Rules governing the UK’s tourist visa system for Chinese nationals give the impression that the UK Border Agency is more concerned with preventing illegal immigration than welcoming the Chinese as genuine visitors, the Institute for Public Policy Research has claimed. It argues that this is one of the reasons why thousands of Chinese tourists flock to Europe instead of visiting Britain.
At present, Chinese citizens wishing to visit Britain on holiday have to get their fingerprints taken, fill out a lengthy application form and pay more on average than if they were to visit the Schengen area of countries, which includes Italy and France. Business groups estimate that Britain could be losing out on as much as £1.2bn a year in tourism spend because thousands of potential Chinese visitors vote with their feet and visit Europe instead.
Sarah Mulley, associate director for migration at IPPR, said there was a “conflict of interest” at the UKBA, where policing borders had led to burdensome tourist visa rules, rather than welcoming Chinese nationals into the country.
“The visa rules are partly a reflection that the UKBA thinks foreign visitors from China and elsewhere will overstay,” she said. “I’m not sure the UKBA is well placed to do the tough job of enforcing the rules and controlling borders, as well as welcoming people and saying Britain is open for business. One part of the Government is saying Britain’s open for business, another is saying we’re closed.”
A UKBA spokesman said: “Securing the border and a simple visa regime are not mutually exclusive, and our current system in China does both.”