Visa reform urged for China

Updated: 2013-12-25 10:48

(China Daily)

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Expanded visa eligibility for Chinese nationals applying to travel to the US will benefit the US economy, according to Chinese-American US Congresswoman Grace Meng of New York City, who represents the borough of Queens, which has a high concentration of Chinese Americans.

In a Dec 19 letter to Secretary of State John Kerry, Meng, together with Congresswoman Dina Titus of Nevada, urged the State Department to expand the current one-year visa validity to five years for Chinese nationals applying to travel to the US and allow multiple entries over the term of the visa. They said the changes would play a critical role in welcoming additional visitors both for tourism and business from China.

“Expanding visa eligibility for Chinese visitors would be an enormous benefit to my constituents and the economy of New York State,” said Meng. “Family and friends would have greater opportunity to see and spend more time with loved ones, and the increase in visitors to New York would be a huge boon to local tourism and economic growth. It is with great enthusiasm that I support this important initiative.”

Chinese travelers are now the leading source of tourist spending around the world, the letter quoted the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) as saying. In 2012, Chinese tourists spent more than $100 billion on tourism outside of China, a 40 percent increase over 2011.

According to the US Commerce Department, the volume of Chinese visitors from March 2012 to March 2013 rose by 21 percent and has increased by 27 percent year-to-date compared with the first quarter of 2012.

When visiting the United States, Chinese travelers spend an average of more than $7,100 per visit, more than that of any other nationals. The figure has risen by more than 500 percent since 2005. In 2012, Chinese visitors spent $8.8 billion while in the US, according to the letter.

In February of this year, the Chinese State Council approved the Outline for National Tourism and Leisure (2013-2020), which laid the groundwork for strong government support for outbound tourism. With the national tourism strategy encouraging citizens to utilize paid leave for vacations, the number of Chinese visits abroad is expected to hit 200 million by 2020, according to Meng.

“The successful implementation of the new Chinese national tourism strategy will surely impact both domestic and outbound tourism in China and we particularly welcome the decision to promote traveling at different times of the year,” said UNWTO Secretary-General Taleb Rifai in a press release.

“The potential opportunity is staggering,” Meng’s letter said. “If the United States attracts one percent of the growing Chinese travel market, those additional 830,000 Chinese travelers would spend $5 billion and support 35,500 more American jobs.”

The letter also pointed out that a large proportion of Chinese citizens who apply for visas are business travelers. Extending the visa term would yield more opportunity for commercial relationships between the two countries, the letter said.

Furthermore, by eliminating the need for multiple visas over a five-year period, the State Department will be able to reallocate valuable resources to reduce visa processing backlogs in China and elsewhere around the globe.

“To me, the current one year visa validity is very inconvenient,” said Ma Yilong, a Chinese graduate student studying at the Rochester Institute of Technology. “If I go home during vacations, every year I have to renew my visa in order to return to school in the US. Though I don’t have to talk to the embassy every time, I have to pay a $140 visa fee and wait for delivery.”

Ma’s visa expired last week, so for this winter holiday, he can’t travel outside of the US other than to Canada or Mexico. “The one-year visa validity limits our chances to travel. If I travel to Europe this winter, I will have to fly all the way back to China to renew my visa before I am eligible to return to US again. Expanded visa eligibility will make my studying in the US much easier,” Ma said.

Wan Li contributed to this story.