16/08/2012

Home Secretary Blocks Move To Ease Tourist Visa Process

Home Secretary Theresa May has blocked cabinet moves within government to make it easier for Chinese visitors to get visas, warning that it would pose a national security risk.

Her opposition was revealed in a leaked letter sent by May's private secretary to Downing Street which emerged only a day after the culture secretary, Jeremy Hunt, tried to build on the Olympic success by unveiling an £8m marketing strategy to treble the number of Chinese visitors to Britain by 2015.

Hunt, backed by the business secretary, Vince Cable, and the chancellor, George Osborne, has led calls to simplify the visa regime for Chinese visitors after repeated and sustained complaints from the Chinese business community.

Currently, Chinese tour groups are able to apply for a single European Union visa, covering the 25 Schengen countries including France and Germany, but have to get a separate visa to visit Britain.

Hunt said he wanted to use the Olympics to "turbocharge" Britain's tourism industry and told reporters one option was to design a "parallel process" whereby tour groups could apply for a British and EU Schengen visa at the same time.

However, May is blocking any such move arguing that visa checks in Europe "do not match the UK decision quality" and claiming that British visa controls are a "key tool in protecting the public against significant harm".

Her letter leaked to the Daily Telegraph points out to Downing Street that there are already 400 Chinese criminals awaiting deportation and 1,000 asylum applications from Chinese citizens last year.

(H/GK)

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