Chinese travel to the UK is expected to receive a boost thanks to a new pilot scheme by the UK and Belgian governments to streamline the visa application process.
Under the new UK-Belgian Visitor Service, Chinese applicants will be able to apply for visas for both countries during a single visit to a UK visa application centre.
It will give Chinese visitors access to both the UK and the wider Schengen area - comprising 26 European countries - without having to visit two application centres. Since the establishment of the Schengen area visa, there have been fears that the UK has fallen out of the agendas of many Chinese travellers due to the extra hassle and expense of applying for multiple visas.
"The number of Chinese visitors coming to the UK continues to soar," commented the British Home Secretary, Theresa May.
"We already offer an excellent visa service in China and have made a number of changes to create a quicker and easier process for customers. This scheme will create a one-stop shop for Chinese visitors to the UK and Europe, whether they are coming here for business or leisure," she continued. Adding: "We will continue to make sure our visa services are world-class to ensure that our borders are protected and that Britain remains open for business."
From 1 July the new process has been introduced as a pilot scheme at the UK's Beijing, Guangzhou and Shanghai visa application centres. Applicants are able to apply and pay for a visa online, then make a single visit to a centre to complete the process.
The scheme is the latest in a series of initiatives to attract more visitors from China and around the world; Chinese visa applicants using the UK online system can already have their details uploaded automatically to the Schengen form to save time.
Under Schengen visa rules, applicants can travel freely within any of the 25 other Schengen Area countries, and authorities and business groups hope that streamlining the UK visa process will bring more travel to the UK.
"We warmly welcome the Government's announcement. It reflects one of the key recommendations of our 'Building on Progress' report which we launched in June 2014 with the Home Secretary. The UK needs to present, as much as possible, a one-stop shop for Chinese visitors who want both a Schengen and UK visa. This pilot, combined with the shared application form, goes a long way towards delivering this," commented Andrew Murphy, Chairman of UK China Visa Alliance.