Visa curbs bad for business, chambers say

PUBLISHED : Friday, 25 July, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 25 July, 2008, 12:00am

Worried trade groups seek details of Olympic cities' block on visits

Foreign chambers of commerce and business groups on the mainland expressed serious concern yesterday about new curbs which have in effect blocked the issuing of business visas for visits to five of the six cities hosting Olympic events.

They called for more information about the curbs - revealed yesterday by the South China Morning Post.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs confirmed that the country had strengthened certain measures for security, including 'necessary adjustments' to visa policies.

In the latest in a series of entry restrictions imposed ahead of the Olympics, authorities in Beijing, Shanghai, Shenyang , Qingdao and Qinhuangdao have stopped issuing invitation letters, which are required in visa applications for business tours, training and research.

The European Chamber of Commerce in China said the introduction of such restrictions without warning 'creates serious problems for companies operating in China'.

It said it was seeking information about how the new restrictions would work in practice and how long they would last.

'Over the past few months, several new rules have been launched in an unexpected way, without any warning,' chamber secretary general Michael O'Sullivan said.

'When we have just learned to adjust to one restriction, another will come.'

The Shanghai Foreign Economic Relations and Trade Commission said on its website this week that the issuing of invitation letters would be suspended until mid-September.

The China Australia Chamber also expressed concern about the fast-changing rules.

'In the past, an invitation letter issued by a company itself would work; months ago, we were told that invitation letters would only be accepted if they were issued by local authorities; now, the authorities say they will not issue any more letters until after the Games,' spokeswoman Xia Yun said.

The American Chamber of Commerce in Shanghai said it would launch an immediate survey of members on what the new restriction meant for their operations and future investment plans.

Mr O'Sullivan said businesspeople were seeking ways round the new restriction by applying through non-Olympic cities for visas that enable them to travel freely around the country.

'Of course, you have to allow a longer time and much higher expenses,' he said.

Koh Chin Yee, executive director of the Singapore Chamber of Commerce and Industry in China, said many Singaporean businesspeople had either invited their Chinese business partners to Singapore or tried to apply for China visas in non-Olympic cities, such as Hangzhou or Suzhou .

Some agents have still been able to obtain letters for their clients, but at a price.

An employee of JoeSun Investment Consulting in Beijing said the agency had secured an invitation letter on Wednesday through 'a contact' at the Beijing Municipal Bureau of Commerce but the client had had to pay 3,000 yuan instead of the usual 500 yuan.

Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao said government policies 'aim to further strengthen control over potential threats to the Olympics'.

He denied the measures would affect foreign visitors' normal business, educational and tourism activities, but did not define what 'normal activities' were.