17 February 2012

New US visa measures for Chinese tourists welcomed

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Increased efforts to allow more Chinese tourists easier access to a US visa have been commended by the United States Travel Association (USTA) and the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA).

American visa

While he may not have got the thanks, President Obama will be glad to see one of his policy's well received after seeing his popularity wane in recent months.

After President Obama gave the State Department 60 days to formulate new policy which would reduce the processing time and increase the efficiency of US visa applications for Chinese citizens in January, the State Department complied and announced their changes last week.

Changes included more interview facilities and 50 more American members of staff at US embassy in Beijing and other consulates in China as well as a waiver option for Chinese citizens who have previously received a US visa, which will allow them to renew their visas without another interview.

The announcement attracted criticism from some corners which claimed the new relaxed measures could compromise national security, but for the most part the news has been well received.

Roger Dow, president of the USTA, said "the State Department is to be commended for its response to the growing demand for US visa applications in China.

"I want to thank [US Secretary of State] Clinton and [US Ambassador to China] Locke for their efforts in reducing visa interview wait times, increasing the amount of visas processed and developing initiatives, such as the interview waiver pilot program, to make business and leisure travel to the United State more accessible to Chinese citizens."

US immigration authorities received a 34% annual increase of visa applications from China in 2011 with more than a million applications, second only to Mexico in total volume. With the new measures in place, visa processing has increased by almost 50% and wait times for interviews has decreased from a matter of weeks or months to just six days.

A holiday to the US reportedly ranks as number one on most Chinese tourists' lists of dream destinations but due to the arduous application process, many had chosen to visit countries with more lax application procedures such as France or Australia.

Chinese tourists spend an average $6,250 (£4,000) on holiday, more than any other nationality, so America's commitment to welcoming more Chinese tourists has been welcomed by consumer industries.

Gary Shapiro, president and CEO of the CEA said "this helpful change to the US visa process for China is another important step in facilitating travel to the US - making it easier for travellers to come to the US to buy American products and services.

"Easing the visa process will boost out economy, create jobs and reduce the deficit. We would welcome more steps by the US government in this direction, including lengthening visa validity for qualified Chinese national travelling frequently to the US."

The American Visa Bureau is an independent migration consultancy specialising in helping people from Visa Waiver Program countries make their ESTA application.

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