Chinese Visa Plan Poses ‘Security Threat’

The United Kingdom’s Culture Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, is trying to ‘turbo-charge’ tourism to the UK by capitalizing on fervor surrounding the Olympics. According to The Guardian, despite the high demand for Chinese tourists, many obstacles still prevent tourists from visiting Britain:

Chinese tourists are much in demand these days – not least among Britain’s government. The reasons for this are obvious: Chinese visitors tend to spend on average three times more than other overseas visitors, yet at the moment France receives 25-30% more visitors than Britain. This is why a division appears to be emerging within the government, with culture secretary Jeremy Hunt trying to make it easier for Chinese tourists to obtain visas, while home secretary Theresa May has been blocking such changes.

The main problem for Chinese tourists is a matter of logistics – the UK is not included in the Schengen visa, which allows access to a host of European countries such as France and Germany. What this means is that an entirely separate process is required to gain entry into the UK. Although an overhaul earlier this year means that visa applications are now completed online, visitors are still required to visit one of 12 UK centres across the country for a face-to-face interview and fingerprinting. If you don’t live near one of these centres already, you’d have to travel some distance to get there.

Another problem is that Chinese people want to visit more than one country if they are going to make it all the way out to Europe – travel abroad for leisure is still a relatively new concept, so many want to cover as much ground as possible. Going to the extra trouble of seeing a country the size of a large province in China (of which there are 33), when the Schengen visa will get you into 26 countries, makes the former seem a less worth it.

There is also the issue of cost: £47 for a Schengen visa, £82 for the UK. On top of this, the UK is viewed as stricter in its handling of visas compared with the rest of Europe, fed by urban legends of rejected applications. In the end, the decision comes down to one question: is Britain worth the hassle?

While some are trying to boost tourism to the UK, Theresa May, the Secretary of State for the Home Department and Minister for Women and Equality, warns of the security threat from the impending Chinese visa plan in a letter. The letter written by Katherine Hammond, May’s private secretary, can be read in its entirety on The Telegraph. From the BBC:

There are already 400 Chinese criminals awaiting deportation and 1,000 asylum applications from Chinese citizens last year, it said.

“The proposal… is not acceptable to the home secretary for national security reasons,” the letter said.

“We also face significant challenges with foreign national offenders and organised crime, including drugs, money laundering, fraud, criminal finances, intellectual property, immigration and cyber crime.”

But Mark Tanzer, chief executive of the Association of British Travel Agents (Abta), said: “In the absence of concrete data about visa abuse, it is impossible to determine whether the right balance is being struck between the UK’s commercial interests and its security needs.”

As Chinese tourists are being courted by the UK, tourists going to China may run into some additional red tape. This change to the visa rules comes amid concerns about foreign journalists’ safety in China. The Los Angeles Times reports:

On Aug. 1, the Chinese government started requiring that travelers seeking tourist visas, officially known as L visas, submit a letter of invitation and photocopies of the traveler’s round-trip ticket and hotel reservations.

To obtain a business, or F Visa, applicants must now have an invitation letter or “confirmation letter of invitation” issued by an authorized Chinese agency. This is in addition to an invitation letter issued by a Chinese local government, company, corporation or institution.

For tourists, the invitation letter can come from a “duly authorized tourism unit” or it can be issued by a company, corporation, institution or individual in China. If the letter comes from an individual, a photocopy of her or his identification must also be provided.

The new, more complicated rules, unfortunately, don’t completely spell out what is considered a “duly authorized tourism unit” or what constitutes a “letter of invitation.” Consulate officials did not respond to our request for additional clarification.

All of the new requirements for the visa can be found on the English website for Embassy of the People’s Republic of China in Washington, DC.