Nicholas Soames: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what steps she is taking to improve the tourist visa application process.
Mr Harper: UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) is committed to developing our services to improve convenience and choice for visitors to the UK while protecting our security. We exceed our target of processing 90% of visitor visas within 15 working days with a global average of around eight days for 2012-13. Over the past 12 months we have introduced a number of new services for the tourist market, including expanding and improving the network of visa application centres with 12 in each of India and China alone.
We have simplified processes by introducing online applications and booking systems and in November we upgraded our online application form to provide guidance on the application questions in 18 languages, including Chinese, Russian and Arabic. For customers who would like a faster decision, UKVI offers a priority (three to five day) visa service in over 60 countries.
In China, we are testing a process allowing selected travel agents to make off-line applications for tour groups using the same form they use for a Schengen visa (plus a short two page addendum form). A passport pass-back service is also available to customers in China, Russia and Southern India who wish to retain their passport to travel or to apply for a visa to another country while their UK visa is being processed.