Willie Walsh has written to home secretary Amber Rudd saying it needs to be easier for Chinese visitors to visit the UK, warning that Britain will miss out on the economic boost brought from Chinese investment and affluent tourists.
The boss of British Airways parent firm IAG has urged the government to introduce a new 10-year visa for Chinese visitors, saying a pledge to do so was made over two years ago, but there has not yet been progress.
Walsh says in the letter:
We need a step change on China. We make it hard for Chinese tourists to visit. The USA charges £119 for a 10-year visa while Britain charges £767.
Making it easier for Chinese businesses and tourists to come to the UK is critical to boosting our economy and enhancing global trading links, especially post-Brexit. We continue to lose out on the new jobs that Chinese investment and affluent tourists bring.
In 2016, the UK issued 480,000 visas to Chinese tourists, while France, Germany, Italy and Spain together issued 1.5m. Walsh said the Schengen visa costs €99 and offers free access to 26 countries which puts the UK at a further competitive disadvantage.
The UK has looked to bolster links with China as it seeks to improve ties ahead of Brexit, announcing last month that a new agreement has been signed to boost the number of flights allowed between both countries by 50 per cent.
The government said at the time that the number of Chinese tourists visiting the UK had soared during the first half of 2017, with 115,000 visits made, a rise of 47 per cent on the same period last year. Spending also rose by 54 per cent to £231m.
A Home Office spokesperson said today: “The UK remains a place that welcomes talented and genuine migrants to work, study and visit, which serves the national interest.
“This world class welcome starts with the UK visa service, which issues more visas in China than any other country. We have made a number of changes in recent years to create a quicker, easier and even more convenient process for our Chinese customers, including our ongoing two year visa pilot introduced in 2016.
“Demand is growing - up to 20 per cent in the past year - and we anticipate a record number of applications in 2018. We are committed to delivering a world class service in response.”