Tourism visas for visitors to Britain from China are to be valid for two years as from 2016, Prime Minister David Cameron announced Wednesday.
The extension of the visa period from the current six months is aimed at bringing significant benefits to the British economy by making it easier for visiting Chinese residents, said Cameron.
A new 10-year multiple entry visa is to also be made available to Chinese visitors.
At the same time, the mobile fingerprinting service which makes it easier to apply for a British visa is to be expanded from nine to 50 Chinese cities.
Britain’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office said the government was also discussing with the Chinese government the potential to expand the existing network of 12 British visa application centers.
Cameron said: “China is becoming one of our fastest-growing travel markets so making it easier and more convenient for Chinese visitors to come to the UK is extremely important.”
“That is why the announcement I’m making today is great news for our travel industry and great news for the British economy enabling us to maximise Chinese spending power even further,” he said.
“It will mean that Britain has the best offer in Europe for Chinese tourists and will build on our already strong people-to- people links, strengthening UK-China relations further,” the premier said.
Richard Dickinson, chairman of the UK-China Visa Alliance, said: “Prioritising longer lasting visas is a significant step forward in the campaign to encourage more Chinese visitors to the UK. It’s great value and reduces the need to apply for a new visa for every trip. We warmly welcome this initiative.”
The standard six-month British visitor visa currently costs 85 pounds (132 U.S. dollars). The new two-year visitor visa and the 10-year visitor visa, when they are introduced, will cost the same as the standard visitor visa no matter how many visits are made.
Chinese tourists currently contribute around 775 million U.S. dollars annually to the British economy with record numbers visiting Britain.
Overall inbound travel, one of Britain’s fastest growing services, was worth more than 42 billion U.S. dollars to the British economy in 2013. It means the benefits of increasing Chinese travel can also be seen in job creation, with an extra job created for every additional 22 Chinese visitors to Britain.
British fashion brands are particularly popular with Chinese visitors, and visiting a luxury store is also reflected in high-spending across the Chinese market, with almost 40 percent of Chinese visitors heading to luxury stores, said a spokesman for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.