Chinese arch in Liverpool, England, home to the oldest Chinese community in Europe. Image credit: Arthur Picton.
British authorities have announced plans to streamline the visa process for Chinese applicants. The United Kingdom Border Agency (UKBA) will allow visa applicants to hold on to their passports while applications are processed.
The visa service, which is one of several that will take effect this year, aims to streamline the application process for the 350,000 applications the UKBA estimates it will process in China this year.
The passport passback service will allow applicants to travel while they wait for their UK visa applications to be processed. It will cost 520 yuan ($84) in addition to the standard visa processing fees.
Applicants will also be able to pay for their applications online later this year, said Matt Heath, the UKBA’s regional manager in charge of visa application services in China.
Applicants who have been granted a Schengen visa, the special permit that allows visitors to travel freely inside a block of 26 countries in Europe, can now qualify for a priority service that allows them to have their applications processed in five days.
In the past, the priority service was only available to applicants who had obtained visas from Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the US or the UK. It also costs 520 yuan extra.
Last year, the UKBA issued 286,000 visas to people in China, 75 percent more than in 2009, Heath said. About 25 percent of all visa applications in China are processed in Shanghai.
To handle the increase, the agency will add 190 visa officers to its Beijing and Shanghai offices during the 2013 peak season.
British Airways has also announced a new route between Chengdu and London. As we noted in October last year, European countries are scrambling over each other to attract Chinese tourists, as visitor numbers from the US and EU have dropped since the 2008 economic crash.