Britain needs to attract rich immigrants who are being put off by ‘unfriendly and in?exible’ visa rules, Vince Cable warned last night.
The future of the British economy depends on attracting trade and visitors from powerful economies such as China – who are being deterred by red tape, the Business Secretary said.
Citing figures that suggest the UK is being shunned by tourists and business visitors in favour of Italy, France and Germany, Mr Cable said the country ‘can’t afford to miss out’ on lucrative opportunities.
His belief in more open borders puts him at odds with some of his Coalition colleagues.
Mr Cable, writing in an article for the Telegraph, said: ‘China is the new economic superpower and we must treat its re-emergence with respect: as an opportunity rather than a threat… our future prosperity will depend on it.The Liberal Democrat’s views are shared by some in the Conservative front benches, including Chancellor George Osborne, but Home Secretary Theresa May and others think relaxing rules could undermine national security.
‘But if we are serious about trading more with countries such as China, then we must make sure our borders are as open as possible to genuine tourism, business visitors, investment and trade.
‘Chinese spending on tourism alone has increased 400 per cent in the last decade.
‘Britain simply can’t afford to miss out on that.
He added: ‘If we are serious about trading more with countries such as China, then we must make sure our borders are as open as possible to genuine tourism, business visitors, investment and trade.
‘Of course, it is necessary to prevent abuse of the immigration rules. But equally we cannot allow red tape to deter the very people that we want to come to the UK and help make the economy stronger.
‘We want to create and promote an image of Britain which means and delivers what it says on the tin: open for global business.’
Britain’s share of Chinese visitors has fallen over the last ?ve years, he said.
Business groups have warned that Chinese tourists, who spend an average of £1,600 per visit, are shunning Britain in favour of European countries.
‘Britain can compete and win its share of global markets. But when the French and Germans have already rolled out the red carpet and are reaping the bene?ts, we cannot afford to lose out.’Mr Cable said: ‘With anecdotal evidence of people saying our visa system is unfriendly and in?exible, it’s no wonder that there were only 180,000 Chinese visitors to the UK in 2011, a small fraction of those going to continental Europe.
Home Secretary Theresa May has recently hit out at criticism of the way the visa system is run, insisting it was something ‘we can be proud of’.
She said last week: ‘The continued use of spurious ?gures and skewed perceptions of the way we run our visa system is damaging its reputation. And it is the very people who claim to be pro-growth who are guilty of spreading this harmful message.’
February 11′ 2013