Airline boss says UK immigration system is putting off foreign businesspeople

Willie Walsh, the chief executive of International Airlines has warned that the UK's visa system is deterring foreign businesspeople from travelling to the UK. Mr Walsh was addressing the World Travel and Tourism Council summit in Abu Dhabi on 10th April 2013.

Mr Walsh was the chief executive of the UK's largest airline British Airways until it merged with Spanish carrier Iberia and became International Airlines. He is now the chief executive of the merged company.

Mr Walsh said 'I get lots of criticisms and complaints from business people when I travel around the world, particularly in growth economies like China, India and Brazil. You talk about investing or doing business in the UK and they all point to the difficulties, the bureaucracy and the cost associated with getting visas to travel the UK and highlight the advantage of the Schengen Agreement where they can get access to 26 European countries at the cost of less than the price of a UK visa and less hassle.'

One visa for the Schengen Area

The Schengen Agreement founded the Schengen Area, a group of 26 European countries that allow free movement between themselves without internal passport controls. Visitors from outside the EU need only get one visa to visit all 26 countries. However if they want to travel to the UK, they will need to get a separate UK visa.

Foreign nationals who are resident in the UK on a Tier 4 student visa, a Tier 1 high value migrant visa, a Tier 2 skilled worker visa or any other long term visa will probably need to get a Schengen visa to travel if they want to travel to mainland Europe.

Mr Walsh warned that the fact that the UK is so difficult to get into may have ramifications for UK citizens wishing to travel to other countries; 'Countries that have traditionally made it easier for British people to get access are now getting fed up and saying if you are going to make it difficult for our citizens to get into your country, we are going to start to do the same' he said.

Heathrow Airport destined to decline in popularity

Mr Walsh also warned that the UK's major airport, Heathrow, is in danger of losing its status as the busiest hub airport because of the failure of UK politicians to take the decision to build a third runway. Mr Walsh said that, without a third runway, Heathrow would be outside the world's top 30 airports within 20 years. He said that this was 'tragic'.

Mr Walsh said that the reason for this inertia was a lack of political will which was caused by political self-interest. 'We are not going to see another runway at Heathrow for the pretty simple reason that there are 73 constituencies in the local area and the politicians that are there are fixated on being re-elected'.

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