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22 Apr, 2012

U.S. Strategy Shift Boosts Visa Issuance For Chinese

Chen Jia (China Daily)

Washington (China Daily) 20 April  2012 – The United States, hoping to rev up its economy through greater travel from China, is on the way to meeting President Barack Obama’s 2012 goal of a 40 percent boost in the processing of visas from the country.

US consular officials in China issued more than 453,000 visas in the current fiscal year’s first half (October-March) compared with 310,000 during the first six months of fiscal 2011, a 46 percent increase, the State Department disclosed on Wednesday.

As part of its “Jobs Diplomacy” agenda, the department has been stepping up visa processing because travelers are an important economic engine for the US.

Earlier this year, Obama called for a national strategy to make the US the world’s top travel and tourism destination, to generate jobs and revitalize the still-recovering economy.

More than 1 million US jobs could be created over the next decade if the US increases its share of the international travel market, officials estimate.

Among other initiatives, the State Department has cut the average waiting time to five days for Chinese applicants seeking an interview for a US visa. The department is also considering the addition of visa-issuance services in Wuhan.

To further streamline processing, the department recently dispatched its first group of “consular adjudicators” to consulates in China to help regular Foreign Service employees. The new hires undergo similarly rigorous security screening as the more traditional diplomats but are recruited based on their Mandarin-language skills.

The Chinese mainland is on its way to becoming the leading source of cross-border tourism in the world, according to a report last week by the National Tourism Administration and China Tourism Academy.

Mainland tourists made 70 million trips to foreign countries, as well as to Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan last year, up 22 percent from 2010.

Jiang Yiyi, director of China Tourism Academy’s International Tourism Development Institute and one of the main compilers of the report, said that figure was 1.2 times the number of US citizens who traveled abroad in 2011.

“The US’ visa application process was really inconvenient in China, particularly for those who do not live in Beijing and Shanghai,” Zhao Jie, 28, who has lived in New Orleans since 2008, told China Daily on Wednesday.

“My friends used to waste their flight tickets back home in other cities because the visa application interview got delayed in Beijing,” she said.

“US citizens should not only take Chinese tourists’ money but also furnish more convenient and comfortable conditions to win over Chinese tourists’ hearts,” said Cao Xi, a 28-year-old Beijing resident who chose the US for her honeymoon destination three years ago.

“I would like to visit the US again to celebrate our marriage anniversary this year if the visa application could be much easier,” she said.

The State Department initiatives also include Brazil. US consular officials in that country issued more than 555,000 visas in the first half of fiscal 2012, a 59 percent increase from the same period a year earlier.