The British Airways chief has urged the Government to follow through on its pledge to relax visa rules for Chinese businesses and tourists, warning that trade links with the Asian powerhouse will be vital in a post-Brexit world.
In a letter to the Home Secretary, Willie Walsh, the chief executive of British Airways owner IAG, urged Amber Rudd to introduce a new 10-year visa for Chinese visitors, fulfilling a promise the Tories made over two years ago.
It read: “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.”
His comments come days ahead of Theresa May’s visit to China and as the Prime Minister grapples with discontent over Brexit that threatens yet more rifts within the Conservative Party.
In 2016, the UK issued 480,000 visas to Chinese tourists while France, Germany, Italy and Spain together issued 1.5 million.
The Schengen visa costs 99 euro and offers free access to 26 countries, putting the UK at a “competitive disadvantage”, IAG pointed out.
The plea comes as China’s burgeoning middle class are increasingly travelling abroad, with around 122 million Chinese making trips overseas in 2016, up 4.3% on the previous year.
Britain and China have also recently signed a bilateral agreement that raises the permitted number of weekly flights between both countries from 40 to 150.
IAG is also calling for the Government to implement two proposals from the UK China Visitor Alliance – that new biometric visas issued by Schengen countries be recognised by the UK and granting visas to the parents of Chinese students studying in the UK.