US liberalises visa procedures for Chinese

The US has liberalised visa procedures for non-immigrant Chinese as it stepped up efforts to woo more tourists to help its ailing economy.

US liberalises visa procedures for Chinese
BEIJING: The US has liberalised visa procedures for non-immigrant Chinese as it stepped up efforts to woo more tourists to help its ailing economy.

Starting next Monday, qualified non-immigrant Chinese applicants to the US can renew their visas without undergoing another interview if their visas expired less than 48 months ago. The scheme was launched under a pilot programme announced yesterday by US Ambassador Gary Locke, state-run China Daily reported today.

US consular officers handled over a million visa applications from China in 2011, a 34 per cent increase. The growth rate accelerated to 48 per cent in the last three months of 2011.

Now almost 90 per cent of non-immigrant applications from Chinese nationals are approved, Charles Bennett, minister- counsellor for consular affairs at the US embassy, said.

Chinese tourists to the US, on average, spend more than USD 6,000 per trip, compared with about USD 4,000 spent by all other international travellers, according to statistics from the US Department of Commerce.

More than 800,000 Chinese visitors contributed USD five billion to the US economy in 2010. The new initiative includes B (temporary visitors for business and pleasure), C1 (transit), F (students), J (exchange visitors) and other categories, covering 95 per cent of the total visas issued by the US embassy and consulates across China, according to Locke.

The previous policy only allowed an interview waiver within 12 months of the expiration date. "We expect that this will benefit tens of thousands of applicants in China, saving them time and money, and making it easier for them to travel to the United States more frequently," Locke said.

On January 19, US President Barack Obama signed an executive order to significantly increase travel and tourism to the US, with the goal of increasing visa-processing capacity in China by up to 40 per cent in 2012.

This goal, combined with previous measures announced by the US embassy to streamline the application process to allow Chinese applicants to be interviewed in a more efficient manner, is the country's latest effort to attract more visitors from emerging economies, such as China, to boost the ailing US economy, the report said.

"We find that once a country relaxes its visa policy for Chinese tourists, it usually produces immediate results in the growth of visitor numbers," Jiang Yiyi, director of China Tourism Academy's International Tourism Development Institute, said.

Locke, however, did not respond directly to a question on whether this initiative was aimed at boosting the US economy. The pilot programme does not apply to first-time applicants.
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