Visa applications for Chinese nationals living in China are handled by the dedicated Irish Visa Office in Beijing, which is a sub-office of the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service (INIS) of my Department. This office handles all aspects of visa applications, including appeals, locally.
Over 50% of visit visas worldwide, which includes tourist visas and applications lodged in China, are processed within 4 days. The remainder are for the most part processed within one week with a small amount of more complex cases taking up to 15 days. This time frame is of course dependent on all the required documentation being provided with no queries remaining outstanding. The approval rate for applications for Irish visas lodged in China is in excess of 93% which compares very favourably internationally.
The current application fee for a single entry visa application lodged in the Visa Office in Beijing is €60. The fee for the equivalent visa for the UK is £80 or about €95. A Schengen single-entry visa also costs €60.
The Deputy may wish to note that China is one of the seventeen countries covered by the Visa Waiver Programme which allows most categories of visitor to the UK, including tourists, to travel on to Ireland without the additional need for an Irish visa. This Programme, which was introduced on 1 July 2011, has proved a significant success with the number of Chinese visitors increasing from 2010 (the last full year before the introduction of the Programme) to 2012 by 38% according to figures from the Central Statistics Office.
The Government has also taken other steps to make the visa process easier, including, with effect from 1 August, 2012, a more liberal multi-entry visa regime for Chinese business travellers and regular family visitors. This regime compares favourably with the approach taken by our nearest competitors. For example, it allows for a multi-entry visa for 3 years for €100 for qualifying travellers which compares with the $180 charged by the USA for the same duration. In addition, agreed programmes aimed at short stays for the purpose of learning English in Irish colleges, with accelerated processing of applications and reduced formalities, have been introduced.
Whilst I am satisfied that Ireland compares favourably with international competitors regarding processing times and approval rates for visas from China, my Department continually examines ways in which the visa process can further facilitate the promotion of tourism and business links to the People's Republic of China, in conformity with the needs of an effective immigration regime. The success of the Visa Waiver Programme and the other initiatives is very welcome and this Government is not resting on its laurels and work is continuing, through regular meetings between the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service and the UK Home Office, on the development of reciprocal short-stay Common Travel Area visa arrangements which would allow tourists and business visitors, including those from China, to travel to the CTA and to travel freely between Ireland and the UK on a single visa. A timetable has been agreed which foresees rollout of such arrangements next year.
This exciting initiative reflects the long history of cooperation between Ireland and the United Kingdom in the protection of the Common Travel Area and now, its promotion as a tourist destination for emerging markets, including China.