Locke's U.S. visa plan to attract more visitors
United States ambassador to China Gary Locke has unveiled a pilot programme to waive visa interviews for 100,000 mainland applicants this year.
In remarks posted on the US embassy's website yesterday, Locke pledged a series of measures to shorten the visa-processing time, as the US seeks to attract more Chinese visitors.
Last year, the US embassy in Beijing and its mainland consulates processed 1 million non-immigrant visa applications, up 34 per cent from 2010. They processed 48 per cent more non-immigrant visa applications in the last quarter of last year, compared to the same period in 2010.
Mainlanders make up about 11 per cent of the total visa workload for US missions around the world, and about 90 per cent of applications from Chinese nationals are approved, according to US figures.
US President Barack Obama signed an executive order last month to boost foreign tourism. One of the measures is increasing visa-processing capacity on the mainland by 40 per cent this year.
Locke said US missions on the mainland would expand their visa-processing capacity by opening new consular facilities in Guangzhou and Shanghai, and adding about 50 consular officers this year.
A former US consular facility in Beijing will be reopened this year to handle 150,000 visas.
Locke said US officials had also discussed extending visa validity for mainlanders with Beijing, but that would be subject to visa reciprocity for US citizens seeking to travel to the mainland.
The US missions will launch a new programme on Monday that will allow consular officers to waive interviews for some qualified non-immigrant applicants, who are renewing their visa within four years of the expiration of their previous visa of the same type.
The policy could open up as many as 100,000 interview appointments for mainland travellers applying for visas for the first time.
'We expect that this will benefit tens of thousands of applicants in China, saving them time and money, and making it easier for them to travel to the US more frequently,' Locke said.
'As China develops economically, more of its citizens will want to visit the US as tourists, on business or for education.'
But he said US consular officers would continue to have the authority to interview visa renewal applicants for security and quality-control reasons.
Locke said in December that more Chinese visitors would help create jobs in the US and help lift its sluggish economy.
'If you turn them away, they'll go to France, they'll go to Canada,' he said. 'It's in our economic self-interest to ensure we get as many people from China travelling to the US as possible.'
US figures showed that more than 800,000 Chinese nationals travelled to the US in 2010, each spending an average of US$6,000 per trip.
This many mainlanders are expected to visit the United States this year under the new pilot visa programme