Visa rules for Chinese coming to the UK to be relaxed

George Osborne: "We are two great trading nations, with a shared interest in keeping the trade routes of the world open and free"

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Visa applications for Chinese visitors entering the UK will be simplified, Chancellor George Osborne has announced during his trade trip to China.

Under the plan, Chinese nationals visiting the EU will not need to submit separate UK visa applications if they book with selected travel agents.

Mr Osborne is trying to persuade more Chinese companies to invest in the UK.

But he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that his trip was also about changing British attitudes to China.

"Many people think of China as a sweat shop on the Pearl River. Yet it is at the forefront of medicine, computing and technology. It's a very rapidly changing country."

Earlier, Mr Osborne told an audience of students that his visit was about "much more than a collection of business deals".

"What I really want it to be about is strengthening the understanding between our two nations, deepening our friendship, working out where by working together we can improve the lives of all our citizens," he said in a speech to university students in Beijing.

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"Yes, of course, we have differences, different political systems, we attach value to different things, and we shouldn't be afraid of pointing out where we disagree.

"But let us not do it in a way that is not respectful of each other and tries to understand each other, and let us try to overcome our differences and work together in peaceful co-operation.

"Because ultimately we want the same thing - a better life for our citizens."

Adam Marshall, director of policy at business lobby group the British Chambers of Commerce, said UK businesses would "breathe a collective sigh of relief" at the plans to simplify Chinese visa applications.

"For too long, Britain has courted Chinese investment and tourism without facilitating the entry of Chinese visitors with the same vigour. A responsive visa system is crucial to demonstrating that the UK is open to trade and investment," he added.

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Mobile visa scheme

During his week-long trip, Mr Osborne has already unveiled a deal in which a Chinese firm took a 20% stake in a new business park in Manchester.

And on Sunday came details of the visa changes.

Currently, Chinese visitors can apply for a single visa to visit much of Europe but a separate one is required to travel to the UK.

It is thought that the extra paperwork is deterring many Chinese visitors from including the UK in a trip to Europe.

A mobile visa scheme that already operates in Beijing and Shanghai will be expanded as part of the changes.

Under the mobile service, which was first tested by executives at Wanda, the company that bought Sunseeker yachts, officials go out to applicants to collect their paperwork and biometric data.

The process can take less than five minutes.

Graphic showing what industries China has invested in internationally and in Britain

A 24-hour "super priority" visa service will also be available from next summer. The moves will be welcomed by UK businesses who want to benefit from Chinese tourists.

In his speech, Mr Osborne said: "Let me make this clear to you and to the whole of China, there is no limit to the number of Chinese who could study in Britain.

"There is no limit to the number of Chinese tourists who can visit. No limit on the amount of business we can do together."

According to the government, last year 210,000 visas were issued to Chinese nationals and they contributed about £300m to the UK economy.

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