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21st Feb 2019

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UK and Belgium in China visa pact

  • Belgium hopes to see its China tourists number increase (Photo: Marianne Janssens)

UK visa applications centres in China are set to help process border-free Schengen visas to Chinese tourists in a scheme hatched with Belgian authorities.

Signed off by the Belgian ministers of foreign affairs and migration on Friday (19 June), the plan will allow Chinese tourists to apply for border-free Schengen visas at UK applications centres in Beijing, Guangzhou, and Shanghai.

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  • The UK-Belgian visa scheme will allow Chinese tourists to visit any Schengen area member state (Photo: Pim Geerts)

“Chinese visitors who want to go to Belgium and the UK and perhaps another Schengen country but with Belgium as its main destination can go to a British visa application centre,” a spokesperson from the Belgian foreign ministry told this website.

A pilot phase starts 1 July.

The plan is being billed as a time-saving exercise for Chinese visitors and a boost to British and Belgian tourism industries. Both countries will still review the application separately.

“Both countries take their decisions on their own, so it’s still two different decision processes but the advantage for the Chinese visitor is that he or she only has to make one visa application for the two visas,” said the spokesperson.

The move comes amid an increasingly hostile debate on migration in the UK.

But British home secretary Theresa May said it “will create a one-stop shop for Chinese visitors to the UK and Europe, whether they are coming here for business or leisure.”

“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," she said.

The European Commission said it will monitor the implementation of the project, "also in light of the imminent roll-out of the Visa Information System in China as of October 2015."

According to the Financial Times, British retailers had lobbied for the scheme because they are left out of a broader and more lucrative tourist trade on the continent.

A Schengen visa gives a tourist access to 26 countries but not the UK, allowing visitors to spend their money in other capitals like Paris and Berlin.

Belgian media report some 120,000 Chinese tourists visited the country last year but only issued around 14,000 visas to Chinese nationals. Just under 100,000 came to Brussels, a 10.5 percent increase compared to 2013.

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