Visa applicants outside US embassy in Beijing / Image via China Daily
Mar 12, 2012
The United States policy to simplify visa application procedures for Chinese tourists has encouraged travel businesses, but Chinese tourism experts have urged the US side to take more substantial steps for the country with the world's fastest-growing outbound tourism.
Since February 13, the new US policy that promised efficient procedures for non-immigrant visas in China shortens the application process to three weeks. Furthermore, Chinese applicants can renew their visas that have expired for less than four years without further interviews.
The time saved will enable another 100,000 visas to be issued every year.
Last year, about 1.36 million Chinese visited the United States, a rise of 26 percent year-on-year, according to the latest figures from the China Tourism Academy.
"Visits to the US have seen continuous growth since the US issued group tourism visas to Chinese travelers in 2008," said Jiang Yiyi, director of China Tourism Academy's International Tourism Development Institute.
But compared with other countries and regions in Europe and Asia, the growth is not as fast as it should be, largely due to existing tourism barriers, especially the complicated visa application procedures, she said.
The increase in the number of outbound Chinese visitors to Southeastern Asia last year was 100 percent, to Africa 40 percent and to Europe 21 percent, Jiang said.
"The US visa application involves one of the most complicated procedures and application forms of all countries," Jiang said.
She added the change brought about by the new policy was largely cosmetic. "The simplification of the visa application does not mean lowering the application standard," Jiang said.
"It is hard to attract a really large number of Chinese tourists unless significant progress is made in visa applications, tourism products and travel safety on the US side."
Several Chinese travel agencies agree. Apart from the reduction in the application time, the daunting amount of preparation and the standard for reviewing the applications have not changed much, said Li Mengran of the marketing department at Beijing UTour International Travel Service Co Ltd.
But they still hailed the new policy. "The change in visa policy is a positive gesture. The move will warm up tourist businesses on both sides, creating a new impetus for traveling to the US," added Li.
Previously, it took between 50 days and two months to get interviewed. Now it is shortened to about two weeks, she said. The message that applications are easier gives travelers an encouraging signal.
Considering the long procedure for visa applications, most US tours were designed for two-week trips. Now the routes can be more flexible.
The Beijing UTour travel agency has offered a nine-to-10-days individual tour package for young people rather than the group tour bought mainly by people aged between 40 and 50.
Li said the most popular destinations among younger travelers are honeymoon havens such as Hawaii and Guam.
Feng Weigao, executive for the product research and development center at Caissa Travel Management Co Ltd, said the new policy will stimulate return trips and traveling independently.
"It is difficult to travel around such a vast country in just one visit," Feng said. "The new policy will increase the opportunities for Chinese travelers to return to the nation to have a deepened travel experience."
Jia Fang, 31, who visited the United States last year with her husband on an individual tour, expects to go to the country a second time this year thanks to the new policy.
Jia, who was amazed by the country's fresh air, hospitality and the easy traveling experience, said they are going to the East coast to visit the nation's top universities and renowned museums."