Visas issued by the United States to Chinese citizens soared 68.2 per cent in December and January after the two countries forged a deal to extend the validity of tourist and business visas at a time when outbound tourism by China is the fastest growing in the world.
The number of US B1 business and B2 tourist visas issued to Chinese citizens jumped in December and January to 351,650, up from 209,100 in the same period a year ago, a US State Department official told the South China Morning Post.
During US President Barack Obama’s visit to Beijing in November, China and the United States signed a reciprocal visa policy, pledging to increase the validity of tourist and business visas from one year to 10 years and the validity of student visas from one year to five years. The US began issuing the longer-term visas on November 12.
“A competitive visa policy will help us meet projections that suggest 7.3 million Chinese travellers will come to the US by 2021, contributing nearly US$85 billion a year to the US economy and supporting up to 440,000 US jobs,” the White House said at the time.
In 2013, 1.8 million Chinese tourists visited the US, contributing US$21.1 billion to the US economy and supporting more than 109,000 US jobs, it said.
In comparison, Hong Kong received 42 million mainland tourists a year, said Mark Lanning, immigration director at Withers, an international law firm. “There is room for more Chinese tourists to go to the US.”
The US is the eighth-most attractive destination for Chinese travellers, while Hong Kong ranks fifth, according to CLSA.
“In Hong Kong, Chinese tourists are the highest spenders per capita,” Lanning said. “If you increase the number of the world’s highest-spending tourists in the US, that will increase revenues and jobs for the US tourism industry.”
A mainland tour agent said many Chinese wanted to apply for the 10-year visa because it was now easy to obtain.
“Even if they don’t have an immediate plan to go to the US, they would like to obtain a visa first,” the agent said.
A director of a travel agency in Beijing said she had seen a slight increase in the number of applicants but the approval rate had not increased. Previously, many Chinese students who left the US for short spells needed to apply for new visas.
Chinese citizens comprise the largest group of foreign students in the US, representing 30 per cent of US student and exchange visas issued worldwide. More US non-immigrant visas are processed in China than in any other country, and the mainland accounts for more than 14 per cent of all US non-immigrant visa applications worldwide, according to the US government.
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