Americans get 10-year visas to China

Updated: 2014-11-13 01:47

By CHEN WEIHUA in Washington(China Daily USA)

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Americans get 10-year visas to China

Edmund Downie (left) receives a 10-year tourist visa from Ruan Ping, consul general and counselor at the Chinese embassy in Washington on Wednesday. It was the first 10-year visa issued to an American at the embassy since China and the US reached an agreement this week during US President Barack Obama's visit to Beijing for the APEC Leaders Summit and a state visit to China. The embassy and Chinese consulates in the US issued some 800,000 visas in last year. CHEN WEIHUA/CHINA DAILY

Edmund Downie, a 23-year-old Yale University graduate, has traveled to China four times in the past eight years. That has meant spending a lot of time filling out paper work and waiting in line at Chinese consular sections in the United States.

On Wednesday morning, Downie became the first American tourist to receive a 10-year tourist visa to China from the Chinese embassy in Washington. Ruan Ping, consul general and counselor at the embassy, presented the visa to Downie thanks to a bilateral government agreement reached on Monday that created the extended visa.

Under the arrangement, tourists and business people will get multiple entry visas valid for 10 years while students will get multiple entry visas for five years. Before the agreement, the visas were valid for 12 months only.

"It's a great feeling. It's really exciting to have the opportunity to make that travel simpler," said Downie, who now travels frequently between the US and India on a research fellowship from Yale.

Downie is leaving next Monday for Kunming in southwest China's Yunnan province for a five-day sightseeing trip. "I have been going back and forth between Calcutta and the US for a couple of months now. Kunming is right on the way to Calcutta," he said.

Downie, who speaks fluent Chinese, said on Wednesday that he learned that Kunming is a very beautiful place. "So I can get some rest," he said in Chinese of his upcoming trip.

Downie got a call from the Chinese embassy on Tuesday evening, telling him that he would be the first to be issued a 10-year tourist visa at the embassy. Downie was applying for expedited service.

While he got the first 10-year visa issued in Washington, Downie was the second person in the US to get one. On Tuesday, the first day Chinese consulates in the US received applications for 10-year visas, and the first one issued in the US went to an American who applied for expedited visa service at the Chinese consulate in Chicago to attend a funeral in China.

Ruan, the consul general, described the visa agreement as a major step after years of negotiations between China and the US.

"It will greatly facilitate people-to-people exchange between the two countries. With more exchanges, people will have better understanding of each other and become closer," Ruan said.

The Chinese embassy in Washington and consulates in New York, Houston, Seattle, San Francisco and Chicago issued 850,000 visas last year, according to Ruan.

In Beijing on Wednesday, the US embassy held a grand ceremony for the first 10-year US visas issued to Chinese citizens, with Secretary of State John Kerry attending.

Kerry described the visa announcement as making an important investment in bilateral relationship.

"This will pay huge dividends for American and Chinese citizens, and it will strengthen both of our economies," he said. "Because of this, if you're one of the 2 million Chinese or American citizens who travel between our countries every year, and that will grow, but if you're one of those 2 million now, you will not have to reapply and pay the application fee every year,"

In his Monday speech in the APEC meetings in Beijing, Obama said the visa agreement means more jobs and opportunities for American and Chinese people.

While noting that it will make it easier for business people to travel between the two countries, Obama said, "But keep in mind, last year, 1.8 million Chinese visitors to the United States contributed $21 billion to our economy and supported more than 100,000 American jobs. This agreement could help us more than quadruple those numbers."

The US processes more than 1.95 million non-immigrant visas in China each year, 14 percent of its global total and more than in any other country, according to US State Department.

The new visa arrangement is also likely to help heat up the US property market where Chinese buyers have shown an increasing interest.

Simon Chan, a partner at the international law firm, Dorsey and Whitney's Hong Kong office, told China Daily that the new US visa procedure will likely drive up Chinese private-equity investments in the US on the personal and institutional level.

More Chinese companies are setting up offices in the West and East coasts, and more and more wealthy Chinese families acquire homes and properties in the US, according to Chan.

"The first sector in the US that will benefit from all this will be the US real estate market. We are already seeing mega deals being negotiated and made in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago. They relate to Chinese money developing real estate projects in tier-one cities in the USA," Chan said.