Visitor visa routes are to be consolidated from the current 15 to just four as part of a simple new streamlined system for business and leisure travellers to the UK.
The new easier-to-understand range of visitor visas carry greater flexibility for the people using them and will be accompanied by redesigned user-friendly guidance to make the process of visiting Britain simpler than ever.
The changes will affect all those wishing to visit the UK from April – from business and tourism visitors to sportspeople and entertainers.
Home secretary Theresa May said: “Britain is open for business – our economy is growing and we are seeing record numbers of visitors flocking to the UK to see our historic sites and sample our vibrant and exciting culture.
“But in a global market place we must make sure we stay ahead of our competitors as we work to carry on attracting the business and leisure travellers who will help our economy grow further still.
“These further reforms to the immigration system are part of our work to demonstrate to the rest of the world that Britain remains open for business and that visitors are always welcome in the UK, whether they come for leisure or work.”
The changes were outlined by May to business leaders at a Confederation of British Industry roundtable.
They were formulated after consultation with more than 100 external organisations, including technical experts, users, decision-makers, business groups, tourism bodies and representatives from specific sectors including science and technology.
Policy and entry requirements are not being changed – but the rules and guidance are being simplified so people do not unwittingly fall foul of the immigration visitor rules.
Reducing routes from 15 to four will help people apply for the right visa and it will increase the types of activities visitors can do while they are here.
For example, a person can visit for business meetings and a holiday and will not need to apply for two separate visas.
The four new visa routes will be:
Redesigned immigration visitor rules and guidance are written in plain English to help non-experts understand them, and they are shorter – immigration rules have reduced by 50 per cent and guidance by 80 per cent.
This will help people find what they are looking for more easily.
While more flexibility is being introduced to the system, the government will continue to bear down on those who abuse it.
From April, exit checks will enable us for the first time to determine who has complied with the length of their visa.
As well as identifying individuals who have remained illegally, exit checks will provide valuable information on the sorts of immigration routes and visas that are most subject to abuse — enabling the government to target and tighten those routes.
In addition to the plans outlined above, the government is changing the student visitor route into a new short-term study route that is conceptually clearer for people who want to study short courses in the UK.
At the same time visitors will be allowed to do up to 30 days’ incidental study (which is currently restricted to business visitors and tourists).
Latest statistics show there were 2.1 million visitor visa applications received in the year ending September 2014, with just under two million visas issued – up one per cent compared to the previous year (excluding the electronic visa waiver scheme).
The new rules will be laid in Parliament on February 26th and will come into effect from April.