Britain introduced a Super Priority visa service in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou on Monday.
Applicants can apply in the morning and receive their visas within 24 hours. The move is part of a British plan to attract more Chinese tourists and business travelers by simplifying the visa process.
"On the first day, we had five applicants in Beijing and three in Shanghai, and we have a number of appointments booked for later in the week," said John Gallagher, communications counselor at the British embassy. "We expect the service to be popular."
It is available to all business, general and family visitors with evidence of travel to Britain, the United States, Australia, New Zealand, Canada or Schengen countries within the past five years, those wanting to apply for general and intra-company transfer employment visas, sportspeople and entertainers.
The priority visas will cost 683 pounds (S$1,400), comprising a visa fee of 83 pounds and service fee of 600 pounds.
Wan Shikai, a businessman from Shaanxi province, welcomed the new service, saying he needs to visit Britain urgently on business but cannot obtain a visa in time.
"I have to wait a week for the visa, but business opportunities in the UK won't wait a single minute for me," said Wan, 41.
Gallagher said demand for the new service will be monitored and customer feedback listened to before a commitment is made to widen it.
Britain is the first European country to offer the service. It sees great potential in China's outbound tourism industry and wants to attract more Chinese tourists and business travelers by offering additional preferential visa polices at its 12 visa application centers in China.
Encouraged by this, travel agencies in China are planning to increase their British business.
Huang Qing, head of the visa department at Ctrip International, said there has been great demand from tourists for the 24-hour visa service.
"Many tourists asked us how they could shorten the process, because they had urgent business or travel plans, but we could do little about it," said Huang. "We lost some clients due to this."
Peter Liu, a senior immigration lawyer in London, said: "The 24-hour service is the first step. What will really attract Chinese tourists is using a single application form to process UK and Schengen visa applications. This policy can offer a more flexible choice with lower cost."
The 26 European countries covered by the Schengen Agreement have a common visa policy.
Many countries have provided preferential visa policies to attract Chinese tourists.
Thailand waived visa fees for Chinese mainland and Taiwan tourists from August to October. Italy has shortened the visa process to 36 hours, while France has adopted a 48-hour visa service for Chinese tourists.