With the spectacular closing ceremony viewed by millions worldwide we marked the end of the 2012 London Olympics. The next time we will see the “rings” will be during the 2016 Olympics in Rio. I was taken aback by the number of people already tweeting their plans to travel to the Rio Olympics in 2016. So now life is returning to normal in London, it is time to reflect on the impact of the Olympics on London in particular and on the UK economy in general.
The figures have not been published yet but in May 2012 the Bank of England predicted that the Olympics would boost our struggling economy by the increased number of tourist visa and investor visa applications to the UK with the injection of cash that would bring. Furthermore, Mr Cameron also predicted that the Olympics would deliver £13 billion to the economy in the years to come through foreign investment in the UK from people coming in on tourist visas and investor visas. So how accurate are these predictions? Should the UK now be tallying the bill incurred instead of counting the medals won?
Economists have agreed that the Olympics would boost the UK economy but not to the level expected. The boost will quickly fade when tourists go back home and start planning their next holiday. Would they visit the UK again? We will have to wait and see.
Slump in the tourism industry
No one can deny that people love the UK and many people dream of visiting the UK at some stage of their life. However, the UK tourism industry saw a slump during the Olympics. Leading tourist companies reported a reduction in the number of people visiting the UK compared to last year on tourist visa. Visitors seemed to have avoided the UK because the UK was expected to be very busy and expensive during the Olympics. However, this was not the only reason. As an immigration specialist people contact me from across the world wanting to know how to enter the UK on a tourist visa or investor visa. The main obstacles these people face are completing complex tourist visa application forms, high visa fees, ticket charges and airport taxes. We probably won’t have the Olympics again in our lifetime and, therefore, we need to work harder to make the UK one of the most attractive destinations for tourists, investors, workers, students, and so on. Make no mistake about it we need foreign cash to boost our economy. Only then we can drive our way out of recession and bring a long lasting boost to the UK economy. Complex tourist or investor visa applications, high fees and taxes are obstacles to visitors and businesses that do not have the time or willpower to overcome The result is, these people who initially decide that they want to come to the UK to spend their cash, start businesses, bring foreign investment, encourage international trade opportunities and employ British people, are being put off by the red tape and instead opt to go elsewhere. For a struggling UK economy (read, struggling business) this has got to be the worst business plan ever!
So what needs to be done?
If you were watching Team GB during the Olympics you will no doubt realise that a third of the medals won by Team GB were won by athletes who were born abroad or have parents or grandparents who were born abroad. This is the best example of how immigration enriches the UK economically, socially, and culturally.
So what is the government doing to attract more people to the UK on tourist or investor visas? Well, for now, it seems that the government is introducing yet more obstacles to entry which is making our country a less favourable destination for tourists, businesses, students and workers.
If we want to see the economy growing, the government must start eliminating some of these obstacles without compromising the security of our country. This is indeed a very difficult balance to achieve, but the government must nonetheless master it, as it is vital to the future of our economy.
First and foremost the government needs to simplify the long and complex visa application forms. This does not apply to tourist visa applications only. The visa application forms for any UK visa including investor visa applications, student visa applications, and work visa applications are lengthy, complex, and technical. These visa application forms put people off from coming to visit the UK or invest and contribute to the economy. Even when the tourist or investor visa application forms have been completed and submitted, the application can take up to three months to be decided. In China 100% of tourist visa applications are decided within 60 days while in Jordan tourist visa applications take 15 days to be decided. In the USA investor visa applications can take up to 60 days to be decided. The UK government could introduce a premium service for applicants who want a decision on their tourist or investor visa applications within a couple of days rather than 3 months – for a substantially higher fee. This simple measure to welcome valuable immigrants to the UK who under tourist or investor visas would enrich our country, as the Olympics has shown.
We do not have to wait to host another Olympics to welcome the world to our country. We hope that those who visited the UK will go back home to tell their friends and neighbours about “Great Britain”, our rich culture, diversity, the opportunities that exist here and hospitality to foreigners and ask them to visit the UK soon on tourist or investor visas and come and spend and invest their money in the UK