Distinction in travel journalism
Is independent travel journalism important to you?
Click here to keep it independent

23 Jul, 2013

Boost for VFR Travel: China Launches New Visas to Boost Family Reunions


Beijing, 2013-07-23, (China Daily) – Relatives of foreign residents in China will soon have more opportunities to visit their loved ones, thanks to new visa rules announced on Monday.

Under regulations from the Legislative Affairs Office of the State Council, an S visa will be created for family members of professionals from overseas.

Spouses, young children, parents and parents-in-law will all qualify for the visa when the regulations take effect in September, authorities said. S1 visas will allow a stay of more than six months, while S2 visas will be for shorter visits.

No details about S2 visa applications were announced, but experts said having a new category for foreign expatriates’ relatives will make applications more convenient and easier.

Under existing rules, foreigners arriving in China for family reunions can only apply for an L visa.

Wang Huiyao, director-general of the Center for China and Globalization, an independent, non-profit think tank in Beijing, said he believes the new move will help attract and retain international expertise.

The Legislative Affairs Office said in a statement: “Foreigners holding an L visa could be coming for tourism, family reunions or personal affairs. That visa category doesn’t precisely correspond to the purpose of a visit.”

The office said it has subdivided visa categories to more accurately state the reason for travel, adding that it hopes the regulations can deepen China’s opening-up, boost tourism and attract more overseas talent.

The number of foreigners entering and leaving China has increased at an average rate of 10 percent annually since 2000, reaching 54.3 million last year, according to the Ministry of Public Security.

By the end of 2011, 4,752 foreigners had been granted permanent residency. Among them, more than 1,700 green card holders are overseas professionals working in China, and the rest are family members who have come to be reunited with them.

Arthur Glauser, 33, a teacher at an international school in Tianjin has worked in the city for four years. He and his Chinese wife have a child.

Glauser said his parents have never had a chance to visit his home in China and that he has no immediate plans to leave.

“It would be lovely to have my parents spend a little time with their grandson,” he said.

He said family reunions will be an issue for an increasing number of foreigners in coming years, as China is wooing overseas experts and many foreigners are looking at opportunities in the country.

Glauser said he believes more people will consider settling down in China, but they will all face the same dilemma of how to balance life far away from home.

Liu Guofu, an immigration law professor at Beijing Institute of Technology, said the government has shown its sincerity toward global talent with the new policy.

“People being allowed to apply for S visas include the parents and parents-in-law of foreigners, which is much more generous than the international standard, which limits this to only spouse and children,” he said.

“The policy will benefit many foreigners, making their lives much easier and more comfortable … so that they can work in the country for a longer period.”

But he said the change will bring challenges in the handling of foreigners, adding, “There are many other ways to attract talent and create a friendly environment for these professionals.”


Streamlined procedures for overseas Chinese:

A Q visa will be introduced in response to calls by overseas Chinese for improved exit and entry procedures. It will mainly be issued to people who apply to visit their families, and will allow a relatively long stay.

Personal information verification:

Financial, educational, medical and telecommunications institutions can verify a foreigner’s personal details through public security bureaus. Police can only issue notifications that state whether the information is true or false. They cannot provide specific information about a person, to protect privacy.

Foreign interns and part-time work:

To curb illegal employment, foreign students must have an academic institution’s approval and footnote on their visas — added by a public security bureau — to take up part-time work or an internship.


Visa categories have been increased from eight to 12.

New & revised categories:

F — For travelers who arrive for exchanges and visits (previously included business visitors).

M — For travelers on trade and business missions.

Q — For overseas Chinese traveling for family reunions, including Q1 and Q2.

R — For foreign workers whose skills are urgently needed by China.

S — For foreigners who come for family reunions, including S1 and S2.

L — For general visitors (previously included the functions of the new S visa).

Unchanged categories:

C — For international flight crews.

D — For permanent residents.

G — For transit passengers.

J — For journalists, including J1 and J2.

X — For students, including X1 and X2.

Z — For foreign workers.

Liu does not think the government needs to go beyond international convention, which only allows for a spouse and children to visit on a family reunion visa. “Public security authorities will face more pressure,” he added.

Apart from the S visa, the regulations introduce another three categories.

These are an R visa for foreign experts whose skills are urgently needed in China, an M visa for visitors on trade and business missions, and a Q visa for families of Chinese citizens living abroad and foreigners with permanent residence in China.

Expats welcome new visa policy

Parents and parents-in-law will be qualified to apply for the S visa, which stands for “relative” in Chinese, once the regulation goes into effect in September. The visa will permit a stay of more than six months. An S2 visa will grant short-term residency to family members.

Here are some expats’ views on the new policy.

Robert Barsby is a British national who has been living in China for most of the last 20 years and now works as a hotelier in Chengdu, Sichuan province. He has three children from a previous marriage, all of whom live in Europe. They take turns visiting him in Chengdu and usually stay for one or two weeks each year.

“I am very enthusiastic about the proposed new visa policies, as this will make it much easier for my children and family members to visit me. Previously, the documentation required made it very difficult to arrange travel on a short-term basis. These new policies will benefit all concerned. This is especially important for me as I am permanently established in China and wish to remain in my adopted country.”

Janelle Woo is the representative of the Singapore-Shandong Economic and Trade Council in Qingdao.

“Singapore and China have signed a visa-free agreement with each other, so this new policy won’t make much difference for us. And I don’t have relatives to visit me often. Even if the policy is eased more, I won’t invite them to China since my work is too busy.”

Ben Lor is a Chinese-American working for an art dealership in China.

“I’m pretty sure that the S-type visa benefits us. For my mother, who only comes for short visits, this is not that useful. But as my wife and I both work in China, this will enable us to invite our son, who just graduated from college, to come and stay a bit longer with us.

“My sister will come to China next month, and I have to provide lots of testimonials to help her get the visa. That’s quite troublesome, and I hope the procedures will be improved. I’m also looking forward to having a ‘Chinese green card’ one day. I have been in China for 16 year, but I still need to apply for a working visa every year, and this is extremely inconvenient.”

Dutch architect Barbara Kuit, who co-designed the Canton Tower with her husband Mark Hemel, settled in Guangzhou, Guangdong province, in 2011. She now lives with her husband and three children in the city and goes back to the Netherlands to visit her parents from time to time, but she would like her parents to have the opportunity to come to China. So she is excited about the new visa policy.

“My parents have not come to China to visit us yet. It is a long journey from Holland. But I will definitely invite them to come after the new visa policy goes into effect,” Kuit said.

“The new policy is very attractive, as it will save time and will make you and your loved ones decide more easily to visit. When it is easier for families to visit, you will be more likely to want to stay and work in a foreign country.”

Joe works for a law firm in Guangzhou, Guangdong province.

“I come from a very large and extended family, so I will host family members, typically three or four times per year. This is not limited to a spouse, children, parents and parents in law, but also my siblings, their children and extended family members.

“I will host my nephew during the Christmas holiday season and my sister in the summer of 2014. Further, if these policies take effect, I think it will be easier for my family to visit, but the current process hasn’t been a problem.

“China is a dynamic place and will always attract expat talent. That being said, we deal with a lot of cases of experts in their field, who are placed or open their businesses in China. The process to obtain a valid work permit and visa can be tedious, but I think with these measures in place, it will encourage these people to bring their families, which in turn will contribute to their happiness and success in China.

“This policy will allow me to continue my career with the comfort that the visa process will be easier for my spouse and children to have the proper documentation in place to thrive in china. Which in turn will add to my continued contribution in my field and in China in general.”

Oscar Garschagen, from the Netherlands, has been Shanghai bureau chief for a Dutch daily newspaper for the last five years. He believes the policy will be welcomed by the expat community.

“It’ll be a great chance for the extended families of expats to visit China and get reunited. Many of the spouses and children of expats visit often, and the numbers will rise when the new regulation becomes effective.”

Javier Ibanez, a 25-year-old Spaniard working at a media group in Beijing, also feels excited about the policy as his parents come to China once or twice a year and have always applied for a tourist visa. The new type of visa will grant them residency rights for a longer period, although he wishes the application procedure were simpler.

“I think currently the main problem about coming to China is the huge amount of information you have to provide to get the visa. More expats will invite their parents for visits if they don’t have to go through an endless process. If the process is easier, more global talents will also be attracted to China and work in the country for more years, which seems one of the aims of the new regulation.”