With the London Olympic Games fast approaching, the capital is expecting a massive wave of international visitors eager to see not just the best athletes in the world but some of the country's best sites and attractions. While the cost of the Games has been a controversial subject since winning the bid, the influx of tourists will provide a welcome boost to the British economy.
The Olympics are expected to provide a much-needed injection to the economy but several people have raised concerns that there are significant obstructions in UK visa application processes which prevent more visitors from coming during normal periods.
The national tourist board has said that the complicated UK visa application encourages tourists to visit elsewhere and is costing Britain £2.8 billion a year in lost tourism revenue...read more.
The Home Office has said that the price of a British passport will fall by £5 later this year...read more.
Staff members at the British High Commission in Pretoria have been told to stick to English when talking to each other...read more.
Business Secretary Vince Cable has said limiting the numbers of international students as part of the coalition Government's efforts to reduce net migration to the country is damaging the UK's international reputation...read more.
Complicated UK visa application costing almost £3 billion
The UK is one of the most popular
tourist destinations in the world
but critics say it is hampered by
a complicated visa application.
The national tourist board has said that the complicated UK visa application encourages tourists to visit elsewhere and is costing Britain £2.8 billion a year in lost tourism revenue.
Speaking to BBC Radio 4's Face the Facts, Visit Britain said a revamp of the UK visa application 'could deliver £2.8 billion extra from tourism'.
The UK is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world with plenty of iconic sites and tourism is worth £18 billion a year to the British economy. However, Visit Britain, along with many others, claims that a complicated visa application process dissuades tourists from coming to the UK.
The UK visa application is currently eight pages long and only allows tourists to visit the UK and Ireland. In contrast, critics say, the European Schengen visa application is only three pages long and allows holders to visit 26 countries.
As a result, France currently welcomes eight times as many Chinese tourists, who have consistently been shown to spend more on average than any other nationality, despite many listing the UK as their preferred destination.
Prime Minister David Cameron in 2010 said he wanted the UK to be among 'the top five destinations in the world' and promised that the visa application system would be simpler and more efficient by 2014.
While, the tourism industry may be encouraged by Mr Cameron's pledge, albeit eager for the changes, some have claimed the visa application process needs further restrictions.
Alp Mehmet, of immigration watchdog MigrationWatch UK, says the system needs to be policed better to combat foreign citizens overstaying their tourist visas.
"The visa process is all about ensuring that people not only come here to enjoy themselves but leave as well," Mr Mehmet told the same radio programme.
"Unfortunately, there is still a lot of evidence to suggest that many people don't go back."
Some may feel Migration Watch's concerns are justified yet there is currently no data available from either current sources or independent which collect data on tourist visa overstays.
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Passport prices cut
An adult UK Passport will cost
£72.50 in the autumn.
The Home Office has said that the price of a British passport will fall by £5 later this year.
Immigration Minister Damian Green said that as a result of 'efficiency' cuts made to UK visa and passport processing offices and staff, the price of an adult British passport will fall from £77.50 to £72.50 in the autumn.
A child passport will decrease from £49 to £46 and a fast-track passport will decrease from £112.50 to £103.
"The Identity and Passport Services [IPS] has worked hard to provide value for money in the vital service it provides," said the immigration minister, referring to 22 office closures and staff cuts.
"It is only right that these savings are passed on to customers and fee-payers.
"Not only has IPS made the efficiency savings to make this possible, but it has done whilst continuing to provide a very high standard of service to customers."
Sarah Rapson, IPS chief executive, welcomed the price cut:
"The UK passport remains one of the most trusted and secure documents of its kind in the world. I am very pleased that we are able to provide it in ever more efficient ways, whilst maintaining our high standard of service and rigorous security checks.
"I am proud of the way that IPS has risen to the challenge of providing even more value for money in these tough times."
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UK visa staff told to stick to English
Dispersion of languages in South
Africa (English shown in yellow).
Staff members at the British High Commission in Pretoria have been told to stick to English when talking to each other.
The UK Border Agency (UKBA) has reportedly issued written warnings to staff within the High Commission, threatening disciplinary measures to UK visa staff if they converse in any other language.
"If they find you speaking in your own language, a manager will come to you and you to please stop speaking that language," said one staff member.
South Africa has 11 official languages, seven unofficial languages and countless numbers of dialects, making speaking English casually an uncomfortable task for many. However, the British High Commission in Pretoria Head of Communications Gary Benham maintains its necessity.
"For many members of staff, English is not the first language, but at the same time the working language in the office is English and should be used at all times," said Mr Benham.
"If another member of staff joins the conversation, or is in the same room as you but does not speak that language, then there is a danger of making that person feel excluded and it is polite to switch to a common language of those present."
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Vince cable weighs into student numbers row
Dr Cable is the latest in a long
line of critics.
Business Secretary Vince Cable has said limiting the numbers of international students as part of the coalition Government's efforts to reduce net migration to the country is damaging the UK's international reputation.
The Government are trying to bring levels of net migration down to the 'tens of thousands' and have made stark changes to UK visa and immigration policy. The changes, which include the removal of post study work rights and introducing interviews for applicants, are intended to tackle abuse of the system by immigrants falsely claiming to be students.
However, the changes have attracted significant criticism from university chiefs and migration groups who claim the changes damage the country's world leading and multi-billion pound international education industry.
And now Dr Cable has ostensibly joined the dissenting parties. In a speech to a group of scientists, Dr Cable said that there is a 'powerful constituency' to suggest the changes were 'damaging' the country's reputation as a great place to come and study.
The business secretary said the coalition's immigration policies were 'damaging to the perception of how we welcome talent from overseas'.
Criticism mainly focuses on the inclusion of student numbers in net migration figures, a practice the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, the UK's main competitors in the international education market, do not do.
The Government has been urged to remove students from the figures; a suggestion which Immigration Minister Damian Green dismissed as 'silly'.
However, Home Office figures which appear to concur with university estimates that the changes are costing the British economy over £2.5 billion a year have led to some reports that Prime Minister David Cameron is considering removing students.
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- Dominic Ladden-Powell is the Online Editor for the UK Visa Bureau.
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