May blocks Chinese visa changes over security concerns
16 August 2012
Home secretary Theresa May is set to block moves to make it easier for Chinese tourists to obtain UK visas, due to the security risk she believes it would pose.
Culture secretary Jeremy Hunt was looking to capitalise on the success of the London Olympics by bringing more Chinese visitors, who are thought to spend around £1,700 on average, to the country.
Chinese tour groups can acquire a single European Union visa to visit any of the 25 Schengen nations, but need a separate visa for Britain.
The hassle of extra bureaucracy could be why only 147,000 Chinese tourists came to Britain last year, compared with the 1.2million that visited France.
However, a leaked letter sent by May’s private secretary to Downing Street reveals that she has rejected proposals to extend the EU visas to Britain.
In the letter Katharine Hammond says: "The proposal... is not acceptable to the Home Secretary for national security reasons. At Cabinet the issue of asylum claims was discussed.
"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."
She points out that there are already 400 Chinese criminals awaiting deportation and that there were 1,000 asylum applications from Chinese citizens last year.
May goes on to refute the claims that the visa system is the reason for the low level of Chinese tourists, and blames VisitBritain, the national tourist body for not marketing Britain’s attractions well enough.
The Home Office argues that the visa process is “insignificant compared to the price and availability of hotels” and says “the cost of the visa is not a barrier”