Harrods boss slams UK visa priorities

Michael Ward, managing director of London's most famous store, said while politicians debate and panic over UK immigration rates and what damage that could do to the still-fragile British economy the chance to boost revenue from tourism is being neglected.

World tourism studies have shown that visitors from rapidly developing countries spend more that other nationalities. In particular, Brazilian and Chinese visitors have been highlighted as the highest spending nationalities yet Mr Ward claims UK visa policy discourages tourists from coming.

The Harrods boss is not alone in his criticism either; the UK visa application is over 20 pages long, only available in English and requires fingerprint checks. In contrast, the European Schengen Visa is a short application, a similar price and allows the holder to visit 26 countries.

Mr Ward compared Chinese tourists, who are required to obtain a UK visa, with American tourists, who can typically visit the UK for up to six months without the need for a visa.

With China's booming economy expected to overtake the US as the world's largest before the decade is out, Mr Ward says Britain cannot afford to differentiate between the two.

"The Chinese will be the number one economic power in the world," he said. "Less than 1% of the population in China have a passport and you go through political scrutiny to get it, far more than we'll ever impose on a visa application."

"How can we start in today's world differentiating between American citizen and a Chinese citizen?"

In response to the Harrods head's claims, a spokesperson for the Home Office said: "China is one of the UK's priority markets for tourism and business. Our Chinese visa system already provides an excellent service and we will continue to make further improvements wherever possible, but we will not compromise the security of our border."

The UK Visa Bureau is an independent immigration consultancy specialising in helping people prepare for their UK Ancestry Visa application.