My Lords, the UK keeps its visa system under regular review. Decisions on changes are always taken in the round and reflect key facets of the bilateral relationship with the country concerned. These will vary globally but often include security compliance, returns, reciprocal arrangements for UK nationals and prosperity.
My Lords, it is encouraging to hear that there is some degree of flexibility in the visa review process, especially as most other Latin American countries do not need a visa to come to the UK. The Schengen area lifted its visa requirements for Peru in 2014, which has resulted in a huge disparity in visitor numbers, with only 4,014 Peruvians coming to Britain last year compared with over 204,000 going to the Schengen countries. Does the Minister agree that the economic disadvantage to the UK in revenue from tourism alone means that there is now every good and logical reason to lift the visa requirement for Peru, especially as we plan to expand our trade and investment links with Peru after Brexit and are promoting closer links between our universities?
My Lords, a visa regime is not a barrier to trade. We have excellent trading relationships with many countries whose citizens require a visa to come to the UK such as China, India, Turkey and the UAE. All non-EEA visitors to the UK are assessed against the same immigration rules regardless of nationality and whether there is a visa requirement. The only difference is where the assessment is actually made. I can attest to the noble Baroness that our visa service is excellent: the processing time is less than eight days, and 97% of non-settlement visa applications were decided within our standard 15-working-day processing time. To return to the noble Baroness’s original Question about whether we will think again about Peru, as I have said to her, we will keep these things under regular review. I know the Foreign Secretary has had talks with Peru on trade, unveiling several infrastructure programmes that the UK is supporting.
My Lords, on an IPU visit to Peru last year the Minister for Trade and Tourism told me that the inward trade delegation from Peru to the UK was disrupted because of the visa complications at the British end, which I am afraid contradicts what the Minister has just told the House, and that does not seem to be an isolated incident. At the same time as the United States seems to be raising trade barriers and making it more complicated for us to trade, countries such as Peru are an ideal opportunity to enhance British direct trade and the visa regime is part of the difficulties that many businesses face. Given the Home Secretary’s announcement yesterday of a review, is Peru not a perfect example of a case study to be included in the Home Secretary’s review about how we could be facilitating a better regime?
I am sure my right honourable friend the Home Secretary will be considering all situations in the round. I am dismayed to hear about any visa complications that might have been experienced by the Peruvian delegation to the UK. Obviously I will not discuss single cases on the Floor of the House but if the noble Lord will give me the details then I will look into it. I know the Foreign Secretary has signed a treaty on the mutual recognition of qualifications, which will facilitate greater exchange of people and opportunities for students from both the UK and Peru. He himself has heralded a developing and intensifying relationship between the UK and Peru that will enable both countries to save endangered wildlife, help to promote the education of women and girls and build our common prosperity.
As the Minister has raised the issue of reviewing global visa policy generally, is she aware that the visa policy for senior business visitors to this country, investing in this country or operating here, leaves very much to be desired, not just for Peru and Latin America but across the whole world? Is she particularly aware that in the case of Japan—I declare an interest as in the register on the Japanese situation—very senior Japanese investors coming here, and Japan is one of the major investors in this country, have found that since the Brexit referendum their delays at Heathrow have increased from one hour to anything up to two hours? This is madness and the reverse of what we should be doing. Could she review it and pass on the need for a review to her colleagues quickly?
I shall certainly take back what my noble friend has said—what the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, said certainly triggered alarm bells for me. I shall take back the points made by my noble friend and the noble Lord, get an answer and write to them.
My Lords, notwithstanding Peru’s lucky victory over Scotland at football last week, I support everything that the noble Baroness, Lady Coussins, said. I was astonished on a recent visit to New Zealand to find that some visitors from New Zealand, of all places, still require visas. What is the Minister doing about that?
I will personally look into that, but of course there are certain countries where visas are required. As I said to the noble Baroness—I totally understand the point that she makes—we keep these arrangements under review on a regular basis.
My Lords, can the Minister confirm that visitors from Peru and all other non-EEA countries are required to complete a landing card on arrival in the UK and present it to a Border Force officer? Can she further tell the House what the Border Force and the Government do with all the data collected?
I think the noble Lord is absolutely right about landing cards: that anyone from a non-EEA country will present a landing card. Landing cards are for statistical purposes, in the main. They are not stored in a warehouse somewhere, they are destroyed soon after.