As British tourism struggles to recover from the effects of the coronavirus pandemic and a tangle of travel restrictions applied to arriving travellers, the government has raised the cost of a holiday visa to £100.
The 5.3 per cent rise in the “admission fee” to the UK took effect this month. It applies to visitors from the vast majority of nations, including the world’s two most populous countries: China and India.
People from the European Union, the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, South Korea and Singapore can enter the UK visa-free.
But travellers from a number of European nations cannot. They include Bosnia, Moldova, North Macedonia, Serbia and, in normal times, Ukraine.
Citizens of a wide range of countries with increasing numbers of outbound tourists, such as Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Thailand and Turkey require UK visas even for short holidays.
At £100 for one country, the UK visit fee is out of line with the Schengen visa. The European permit costs €80 (£69), with children aged six to 12 charged half and those aged five and under travelling for free. It allows travel to 26 European nations including France, Italy, Spain and Greece.
A family of four would pay €240 (£206) or less for Europe, compared with £400 for the UK.
Britain’s leading inbound tourism figures have deplored the move.
Joss Croft, chief executive of UKinbound said: “The decision to increase visa prices is absolutely tone-deaf.
“The government says the UK is open for business and ready to welcome back international visitors but rather than making positive, informed changes that would make the UK’s visa system more internationally competitive, it has instead taken the counter-intuitive step to just increase prices.
“The UK’s tourism industry already sits at the bottom of the table for international price competitiveness.
“Further taxation on visitors will only slow down the industry’s recovery, an industry that is the country’s second largest service export, second only to financial services.
“International tourism is a competitive industry, which is why the government needs to invest further in the promotion of Britain abroad and implement smart visa policies and funding that support the recovery and growth of the sector, not hinder it.”
Bernard Donoghue – co-chair of the London Tourism Recovery Board and director of the Association of Leading Visitor Attractions – also criticised the fee increase.
“Last year UK tourism lost around £200m every day,” he said.
“Our industry is only just repairing and so anything that makes the UK less affordable or less attractive than our near neighbours is a barrier to recovery and growth.”
Paul Charles, chief executive of the travel consultancy The PC Agency, said: “The UK should be visa-free right now, not have a visa fee, and I’m astonished that the government is continuing to erect further barriers for those wishing to enter the UK.
“A fee increase on the admission visa sends the wrong message and is hardly a sign of Britain being ‘open’ for business or for leisure.
“This should be the year when the government is doing everything it can to attract every visitor, and that includes removing fees for a temporary period.”
A Home Office spokesperson said: “Visa fees play a key role in ensuring that the borders and migration system is sustainably funded, reducing reliance on UK taxpayers.
“The increase to the visit visa fee is necessary to address wider costs and pressures in the Migration and Borders system, and to fund other essential changes.”
The last increase was in 2019. The Home Office estimates that the actual cost of processing a visit visa is £135, about one-third higher than the fee levied.
In October 2021, the government removed the right for European Union visitors to the UK to use national identity cards, requiring them instead to get a passport.
An estimated 300 million Europeans have ID cards but not passports